JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
DIRECTED BY Kenneth Branagh
STARS Chris Pine, Kevin Costner
Jack Ryan should have quit while he was ahead.
The hero of numerous novels penned by the late Tom Clancy, the stalwart CIA analyst (among other careers) was successfully brought to the screen in 1990's The Hunt for Red October (with Alec Baldwin essaying the role), 1992's Patriot Games (Harrison Ford), 1994's Clear and Present Danger (ditto) and 2002's The Sum of All Fears (Ben Affleck). That '02 effort was an attempt to reboot the franchise after an eight-year hiatus, and while the movie was a hit, no further adventures were filmed. So Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is in effect the second try at resuscitating the series, but it only succeeds in demonstrating that, like last year's dreadful Die Hard sequel, some beloved franchises are best left undisturbed in the video bins of our mind.
While Sum felt like a prequel to the first three pictures — Ryan's career was just revving up — Shadow Recruit is its own creation, starting from scratch and veering away from developments and dates in the other movies (tellingly, this is the first Ryan film not based on a Clancy novel; instead, a script that had nothing to do with the character was rewritten for this cinematic plug-and-play). Thus, as the story begins in 2001, Ryan (Chris Pine) is a student attending college in London when the twin towers fall. A tour of duty follows, along with major injuries that put him in the company of both medical student (and future wife) Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley, feigning an adorable American accent) and CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Cut to 10 years later, and Ryan's now living with Cathy and working undercover for the agency. His job is to spot financial irregularities that might signal criminal activity, and he locates a doozy that leads him to Moscow, where a bigwig named Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) is plotting to bring down Wall Street.
While the prospect of watching The Wolf of Wall Street's Jordan Belfort being taken out is enough to make one salivate, it's not compensation enough for the drudgery that defines this film's every move. The previous Ryan exploits were meaty endeavors, with plenty to engage our senses and our smarts — sub commander Sean Connery trying to escape Mother Russia, Ford and black-ops leader Willem Dafoe teaming up to fight corruption on both American continents, weary CIA specialist Liev Schreiber doing the dirty work like a ragtag 007, etc. — but the dull Shadow Recruit is distressingly bare, with a story that could fit on a cocktail napkin from one of Jay Z's lavish parties. There are no narrative surprises, just a straight line connecting predictable plot points, and while Pine has proven to be aces as Star Trek's Captain Kirk, he's rather bland here, and his turn only accentuates Costner's gravitas in the role of his mentor. Interestingly, Costner was offered the Jack Ryan role in The Hunt for Red October, and his performance as Harper shows that he still has the proper qualifications to play an older, wiser CIA agent. If they insist on moving forward with this franchise, maybe another reboot is in order, perhaps this one with the grown-ups back in charge?