Let's say a lady has eleven children. Ten are average, everyday kids. One of them, however, was dropped on the noggin as a baby, and while the other ten go on to move out, go to college, get married and have families of their own, this mentally deficient child requires constant care and cannot ever live away from his mother, causing her hardship and frustration well into her old age. But when the chips are down, he's probably the one she loves the most. That's kind of how I feel about Jack Reacher.
Let's also say, this mentally handicapped kid loves action movies and wants to play a game with his siblings where he's a super badass who floats around America solving mysteries. In order for the dumbest guy in the family to feel like the smartest investigator in the world, those placating him must feign a stupidity deeper than his to make him look superior. That's kind of how I feel about everyone in Jack Reacher who isn't Jack Reacher.
Now let's say the father of this clan sits in the shadows in constant horror and disgust at what his life has become and dreams of running away as fast as he can. That's Werner Herzog.
Jack Reacher is a profoundly stupid film, but it's also a total blast. Not since Mission Impossible 2 have I seen a film so built around and coasting on movie stardom (unless you count the fake movie stardom of The Room or Good Deeds). This movie is Tom Cruise. His character reigns supreme over everyone else. He has a photographic memory. He is a combat genius. And a psychology genius. And one of the world's greatest marksmen. He's also an American ghost, able to disappear like a puff of smoke and show up just where he's needed with little effort. Ladies ogle his every move. If anyone in the movie had given him a Rubik's Cube, he'd have that shit solved: one second; three moves. Then he'd toss it back at them with a mixture of "I told you so" contempt and "I feel sorry for you people who can't solve Rubik's Cubes like I do" patience. He's 100% a Hollywood movie character, the likes of which we don't really see anymore. Jack Reacher is wonderfully anachronistic, but also reminds us how much better we have it now than we did in the '90s.
While Jack Reacher is all about Tom Cruise being the best Tom Cruise narratively possible, the film works because of Christopher McQuarrie. The plot alternates between mystery scenes and action scenes. During the investigation stuff, McQuarrie's script shines. Yes, this is an amazingly stupid film, filled with cliches and characters whose intelligence inferior to Reacher's often feels affected. But unlike Mission Impossible 2, Jack Reacher's spiritual cousin, this feels entirely intentional. As a character Jack Reacher is a somewhat unknown entity in the Lee Child's novel, One Shot, and it's easier to accept him as a nearly superhuman genius investigator as a result. Tom Cruise changes things. McQuarrie seems to understand that and makes it work as a vital component to his well oiled entertainment machine. It's more fun than you'd think to watch Jack Reacher outsmart everyone in the room, even if it's all a very obvious fantasy.
But it's McQuarrie's action scenes that elevate Jack Reacher. These days a good practical car chase is always welcome. The one here isn't exemplary, but it's far from awful. The fight scenes are both visibly comprehensible and often humorously choreographed. This isn't The Raid or Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. But it's a breath of fresh air after years in which most Hollywood action films refuse to let you see any of what's going on.
The problem, however, and the one thing that will keep Jack Reacher from being a rewatch classic, is its bloated length. Some movies can run over two hours and you'd never know it. Jack Reacher is three minutes shorter than Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, yet feels half an hour longer. When I want to watch an old Tom Cruise pretend to be a young Tom Cruise in an awesome action film, I highly doubt Jack Reacher's the film I'll reach for.
In a way, this is a perfect holiday movie. You can take your visiting extended family to it, and nearly everyone will be happy. Your really stupid relatives might look at you funny the couple of times you snicker at Cruise's naked onscreen ego, but it doesn't really matter what makes you smile, so long as you smile.