For the first time in eleven years, Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) find themselves facing a challenge that all parents eventually face: the empty nest. With their kids away for the first time at summer camp, the Gaffneys angle to reignite their dampened flames of romance. This proves easier said than done when Karen is distracted by the sudden arrival of their new neighbours, the Joneses (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot), whose stunning looks and overall savoir faire are only matched by their air of mystery.
Where to even start?
Greg Mottola…what – are – you – doing?! Have you just given up on life? Is this Hollywood apathy, or are we being Punk’d? Mottola directed Super Bad (2007), Adventureland (2009) and three episodes of Arrested Development (2003-2004), all solid hallmarks in the modern comedy canon, and now he’s followed those up with the remarkably rotten Keeping Up With The Joneses. It just makes no sense. Though the direction is uncharacteristically lazy for Mottola, it’s not entirely his fault. It has the stink of at least 40 production executives all over it, and a screenplay by writer/producer, Michael LeSieur, that should never have made it past the first meeting.
The film is just…bad. There’s no other way to put it. The writing, the direction, the acting; and not bad in a “we reached for something and missed” kind of way, but bad in a “let’s get our money and get outta here” kind of way. It somehow manages to make Zach Galifianakis un-funny and Isla Fisher boring, not to mention its completely wasteful use of Jon Hamm and typically frustrating over-sexualisation of Gal Gadot. Keeping Up With The Joneses is definitely not worth keeping up with.
With 2012’s Jack Reacher, producer/star, Tom Cruise, threw down what looked like the beginning of an exciting new action franchise. Yanked from the pages of the popular novels of Lee Child, the titular action man – a highly skilled former Army investigator turned adventure-prone drifter – was a compelling creation, spiked by a perverse sense of humour and defined by a singular ability to put foot to arse. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film itself was equally kinky and violent, boasting Werner Herzog as a villain who’d eaten his own fingers in a POW camp, and a swathe of inventive, bone-crunching action scenes. In short, the stage was set and lit for an enjoyably old-school series of grunt-and-thump belters.
For the sequel, however, power-player, Cruise, has slotted Edward Zwick into the director’s chair, and opted to soften and humanise fists-first lone wolf, Jack Reacher. The results are disappointing, to say the very least. A thoughtful director with credits like Glory, Courage Under Fire, Defiance, and the Cruise-starring The Last Samurai, Zwick is all wrong for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. His direction of the action is pedestrian and run-of-the-mill, and his script (penned with regular collaborator, Marshall Herskovitz) takes a direct detour away from what made Jack Reacher such an interesting protagonist in the first place. The ruthlessness and bitter gallows humour is gone, replaced by a mawkish plotline in which Reacher agonises over whether plucky teenager, Samantha (played with engaging sass by newcomer, Danika Yarosh), could actually be his daughter. If this maudlin narrative side-swipe wasn’t bad enough, its unfolding and ultimate resolution make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The main narrative through-line is equally exasperating, as Reacher comes to the aid of Major Susan Turner (an impressively physical Cobie Smulders), a hard-nosed senior officer whom he’s only communicated with via phone. Reacher’s readiness to put his life on the line for a woman who is essentially a stranger is a major stretch, even for the action genre, while the ruckus that they find themselves caught up in (involving the US military’s re-sale of guns in The Middle East) would barely sustain an episode of NCIS. Villain-wise, there’s nothing to rival the great Werner Herzog here, with Reacher up against a few military bigwigs and a sneering, cliched assassin (Patrick Heusinger) who looks like he should be modelling Calvin Klein underwear.
The film’s placement of a strong female character right in the middle of the action, meanwhile, is admirable, but is so laboured that you can almost hear Zwick and Herskovitz ticking off points on The Bechdel Test along the way. Most hypocritically, they have Turner and Reacher engage in a gender-politics-set-to when he sidelines her in the action to look after the teenage-girl-that-might-be-his-daughter just because she’s a woman, but then have Turner conveniently sit out the film’s mano a mano action climax despite her previously established butt-kicking skills.
It’s just one of the many things that marks Jack Reacher: Never Go Back as such a soft-boiled disappointment. The film never feels true to itself, and indeed, Tom Cruise might have been wise not to go back to playing Jack Reacher at all. After such a ham-fisted, disingenuous effort as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, this potentially promising action franchise has taken one right between the eyes.