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Jack Reacher

One must acknowledge that the Godzilla-sized ex-military cop Jack Reacher of Lee Child's novels bears no resemblance to the comparatively diminutive actor Tom Cruise.

Apparently, the You Must Be This High To Play Jack Reacher rule was a deal-breaker for many of the books' fans. They only cheated themselves out of a pretty solid action/mystery from screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie (who directed the eccentric thriller The Way of the Gun).

An unbalanced, military-trained sniper is accused of killing five random strangers in a Pittsburgh park. The accused himself requests the presence of the off-the grid Reacher before being beaten into a coma by other prisoners. Reacher shows up believing the suspect is likely guilty. But the suspect's defence attorney Helen (Rosamund Pike) asks Reacher for help anyway, leading to an unconventional investigation involving a crusty gun range owner (Robert Duvall) and very sinister Russian known as The Zec (Werner Herzog).

Pike's performance is off, all wide eyes and daring decolletage more appropriate to a novice stripper than a public defender.

Cruise feels well cast by comparison, playing the terse tough guy without the usual strained earnestness we see in him.

The movie's contemporary military trappings distract from the fact that the film's true antecedent is the noir/private eye genre. In that capacity, Jack Reacher stands proud -- if not tall.

3-1/2 stars out of five

 

Mama

Guillermo Del Toro tends to bring a touch of poetry to even his most mainstream thrillers (Hellboy 2, for example), and while he is the producer and not the director of Mama, his influence is felt.

A disturbed financier kidnaps his two young daughters, taking them to a remote cabin in the woods. Before he can complete his cycle of self-destructive violence, a mysterious entity intervenes.

Five years later, the financier's brother, Lucas (Game of Thrones' Nicolas Coster-Waldau), discovers the daughters have been found, still living in that remote cabin. They are feral creatures, scuttering all over like large, nimble rodents.

A self-serving therapist (Daniel Kash) agrees to let the girls live in the custody of Lucas and his punkish, rock-musician partner Annabel (Jessica Chastain) in a nice suburban house supplied by the hospital, in exchange for a chance to evaluate them further.

They agree, though Annabel resists the maternal role that has been thrust upon her. Upon meeting the girls, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle N©lisse), she tells them not to call her "mom" when Lilly looks toward the house and repeatedly calls out "Mama."

The girls aren't talking to her. It turns out a maternal wraith has joined the girls in their new home.

These days, it might seem Chastain would be a little over-qualified to play a role like this, but she handles it well enough. It's the young girls in this film who really impress. Charpentier and N©lisse can induce chills as feral tots, and Charpentier in particular manages a tricky character arc, in which her loyalty moves from one unlikely mother figure to another. They hold our attention to the film's startling but oddly beautiful conclusion. 3-1/2 stars

 

Safe Haven

A new Nicholas Sparks-based movie washes up about once a year. Each movie is as alike as the next one, but for Sparks fans, it is not an insult to say they tend to be familiar and formulaic.

"Familiar" is kind of the point.

Safe Haven, directed by Lasse Hallstrom (who also helmed the Sparks adaptation Dear John) offers up a mix 'n' match of Sparks tropes. Julianne Hough (Rock of Ages) is Katie, the designated outsider (see also Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe, Zac Efron in The Lucky One and Miley Cyrus in The Last Song) who blows into a scenic North Carolina coastal town, one step away from some serious trouble in Boston.

Determined to lay low, she rents a picturesque rundown cabin and gets a job waitressing at a local restaurant.

Back in Boston, a sweaty, sinister police detective (David Lyons) is in hot pursuit of Katie.

Initially unwilling to drop her guard, Katie eventually yields to the friendship of a mysterious, solitary neighbour (Cobie Smulders) and eventually a friendship with benefits offered by handsome widower Alex (Josh Duhamel), a store owner bravely trying to go it alone with a couple of needy kids.

Hough doesn't make much of an impression, and Duhamel manfully attempts to add shades of character to a romance novel heartthrob, with little success.

It's very sentimental stuff and Sparks fans will doubtless gobble it up like chocolate truffles. Non-fans, take heart. After alternately wincing at the screen and scrutinizing your watch, you'll find the movie's third act does finally yield an unexpected moment.

In any other movie, it might elicit a raised eyebrow. In a Sparks story, it shines like a gold nugget in North Carolina beach flotsam. 2 stars

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2013 c14

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