Not all that bad, but I wonder if I would have fully liked it had somebody other than Chris Pine had been assigned the part. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the reboot of the Tom Clancy character, the CIA Analyst who – in past installments – used smarts to foil international terrorists. This time Pine is young Ryan, finishing up school at the London School of Economics when 9/11 occurred, two years later finds himself a hero saving two soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan where they survive a helicopter attack (poorly dramatized, actually). Once physically broken in rehab, he meets pretty doctor Cathy (Keira Knightley), and is propositioned a covert CIA job. He finds himself in an undercover Wall Street job ten years later studying investment patterns of evil corporate groups.
The big storytelling gap occurs between the rehab and the intense CIA training before Ryan lands on Wall Street. If this was a serious reboot from the ground up, why wouldn’t we spend some genuine time showing how Ryan got through school? We get one of those “Ten Years Later” title cards. I know most audiences are hungering for the movie to just throw itself into a terrorist plot, but I kept thinking, “Shadow Recruit” could have had both. Also, Pine’s take on Jackie Boy is far less interesting than the Mentor-Recruiter-Operative William Harper played stoutly by Kevin Costner. There is some brainy dialogue by Costner as he lays down the job, and the lifestyle, for our hero. I wanted to hear more about his CIA history.
The crux of the movie takes place in Moscow, with Ryan out to investigate a slimy business magnate (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) who seems bent in manufacturing terrorism as a means to collapse the world trade stock market, making Russian mobs rich while forcing America and China into a 21st century Great Depression. I believe Pine understood the plot a little bit better than I did while making the film. It helped me that I’ve seen the James Bond entries “Casino Royale” (2006) and “The World is Not Enough” (1999).
Pine’s life is immediately at risk the moment he enters his hotel room, but survives it pluckily, and is briefed to meet the Russian villain Viktor Cherevin. Clever words are exchanged, a dinner meeting is arranged between them, and Cathy crashes Russia because she thinks her beau is having an affair. Now Cathy must show up at dinner, too, charm the pants off the Russian slimeballs while Ryan infiltrates a high-security office building so he can download the villain’s corporate top secrets. At this point, I kind of liked “Shadow Recruit” for awhile. But Branagh as a director, goes from smooth and deft direction to overcutting and rapid direction for the New York Manhattan climax where a second-rate terrorist must be thwarted.
Jack Ryan isn’t much of a James Bond or an Ethan Hunt type, and isn’t much of anything at this point (as long as Pine in in his shoes) beyond a good-looking, sharp-dressed everyman who happens to be in the CIA. Alec Baldwin was a thinking man’s perfectionist as Jack Ryan in the very plausible “The Hunt for Red October,” Harrison Ford had brawn-and-brains versatility in the next two Jack Ryan installments, and Ben Affleck made a serviceable Jack Ryan in the more complex “The Sum of All Fears.” Pine, for years, has always looked more ready for a steamy NC-17 sex drama than to play another action hero.
I’ve probably seen too many movies at this point about heroes stopping terrorists before they set off a big bang with hundreds of thousands of lives at stake. I would have like the whole movie to be about Costner’s mentor-recruiter character, but Pine is the handsome cover boy that sells tickets, isn’t he? For what it is, “Shadow Recruit” is a decent diversion, a little re-tooling might ensure more franchise sequels, but neither me nor anybody else in the theaters whooped or hollered with excitement or fervor while it played. A movie like this catches your attention for awhile, but you come out of it and none of it has changed your life.
106 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE / SPY FILMS / LATE NIGHT VIEWING
Film Cousins: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990); “Patriot Games” (1992); “Clear and Present Danger” (1994); “The Sum of All Fears” (2002).