Review: Grizzled Duvall steals Cruise’s thunder in Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher and Cash wait to shoot someone. Cash didn't cotton to much book larn'in.
Jack and Cash plot a shootout. A lot of that was going on in “Jack Reacher.” (Paramount Pictures)

Jack Reacher (PG-13, 130 minutes): About two-thirds of the way through Jack Reacher, I started writing it off as another Tom Cruise vanity exercise. For most of the movie, Tom had strolled through each scene flashing his toothy smile, winning fist fights, going shirtless.

It was about time for a concession or bathroom break. I’d seen this movie before.

But then, Robert Duvall showed up on screen.

Duvall played Cash, a grizzled, Popeye-looking, ex-soldier who ran a shooting range that’s pivotal to the plot of the movie. The fact that Duvall was playing the folksy character he normally plays these days drew me right back into the movie.

So, I rode it out.

I’ve been a big fan of Duvall’s spit-and-whittle style for the past 15 years. It started in 1997 with his guest appearance on Saturday Night Live‘s game-show sketch, “Who’s More Grizzled?”

In the SNL sketch, Duvall plays Tate Mitchum, an ornery cuss who doesn’t cotton to questions and never had much cause for “book larnin’.” In Jeopardy style, he has to deal with  categories of War, Hard Times, Bear Attacks, Ailments, Dead Wives and Coal Mining.

The subject of War is chosen. The board reads: “Grandpa tell me a story.”

Tate buzzes in: “I was separated from our unit, came across a bunch of Germans asleep [in] a field. Bayonetted every last one of them! Didn’t find out ’til later the war had been over for a week.”

Tate’s answer was correct.

In the lightning round, Religion was the topic.

Tate buzzes in. “The day I set foot on that beach in Normandy, I never wished more that there was a god in heaven, and I was never more certain that they wasn’t.”

Again, Tate’s correct.

His opponent, Jim Greer, played by Garth Brooks, was impressed and could only chime in: “Damn … you are grizzled.”

In the end, Jim won the match. But for his troubles, Tate won some salted meats and a bottle of Rebel Yell.

In Jack Reacher, Duvall seemed to be reprising Tate Mitchum as Cash. Old Cash didn’t cotton to Jack poking around at his gun range. Duvall had that laugh that guys have when they’re holding snuff in their bottom lip.

For the rest of the movie, Duvall stole the show whenever he showed up. He was an excellent counter to Cruise’s smugness.

The movie’s villain was a milk-eyed Russian called “The Zec.” Given the opportunity, Duvall would have met his match with “The Zec”, played by Werner Herzog, who’s kind of a Baltic version of Tate Mitchum. They both have only one good eye, but they’re both ornery.

Together, they would have given an excellent “Who’s More Grizzled?” show.

THE PLOT: Jack Reacher is an adaptation of Lee Child’s 2005 novel One Shot. Rather than a tall, blonde Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise stars as a shorter, dark-haired version in the movie. In 130 minutes of running time, he must unravel a crime scene in which a former military sniper is accused of gunning down five people in Pittsburgh, Pa. Before he’s beaten into a coma, the sniper asks for Jack, who is a mysterious drifter and former Army military police officer. The DA, starting with Richard Jenkins (the dad from Step Brothers), believes it’s an open-and-shut case. From there, you’ve got PNC Park, CSI-style crime scenes, a fist fight, high-speed chases, conspiracy, more high-speed car chases, slow-motion walking, tasers, gun battles, fist fights in the rain.

FOR KIDS: Lots of gun battles. I mean, lots of gun battles. It’s like walking into a Dave & Buster’s arcade on a Saturday night.

BEST TIME FOR A BATHROOM BREAK OR REFILL: When Helen drops off Jack at the auto-parts store, do your business. Jack threatens people, per usual, but no fists are thrown nor guns drawn.

DATE MOVIE? Sure. Lots of opportunities for kissy-face action between Tom Cruise and co-star Rosamund Pike (a Laura Dern knock-off).

IS THERE A CHANCE YOUR DATE WILL SEE YOU CRY? No. Even with Tom Cruise, there’s hardly any time for anything emotional what with all the fist fights and gun battles.

PAST REVIEWS: Lincoln | Skyfall | Lawless | The Possession | The Hunger Games | The Campaign | Total Recall | Up | Slumdog Millionaire | Star Trek | The Day the Earth Stood Still | The Wrestler | Inglourious Basterds | Dark Knight Arises | The Green Hornet | Watchmen | Avatar | The Social Network | Battle: LA | The Dark Knight | Savages | Piranha 3D | Rise of the Planet of the Apes | The Amazing Spider-Man


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