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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 2014 * * Stars

Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitDirector: Kenneth Branagh
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightly

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the fifth film in a series that features actors Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, and now Chris Pine. After viewing this January release which is one you might forget about the moment you leave the theater, I was slightly reminded of a James Bond movie. Here's the thing: I was reminded of a lousy James Bond movie. So for the record, let's just call this Bland, Jack Bland.

Even though "Shadow" is the fifth and latest installment, it reverts to being an original story separate from the Tom Clancy novels (of which the earlier films were based on). It has been unleashed into theaters just months after the similar themed Paranoia. That film (coincidentally starring Jack Ryan alum Ford) was a huge disappointment. This Kenneth Branagh directed lark, is only slightly better. With a short running time that renders it vastly underwhelming, and containing not one plot twist despite putting that notion out in the trailers, the proceedings begin with an introduction to the events of none other than 9/11. Jack Ryan (Pine) is living in London as a college student and sees the horrific images mentioned on TV. He then decides that he wants to save the world (why not) so he enlists in the U.S. Marine Corps to serve in Afghanistan. After getting severely injured in combat, he winds up in a hospital, meets his future wife (Keira Knightly as Cathy Ryan), and is watched by an admirer in CIA agent Thomas Harper. Harper played by Kevin Costner, persuades Ryan to finish his PhD and eventually work for him on Wall Street (Pine's character uses his smarts to suspect terrorist activity). Things get hairy when Jack gets involved with a creepy Moscow investor named Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh casting himself as the villain and harboring an incredibly silly Russian accent). From then on, the plot and the sporadic chase sequences/fistfights are set in motion.

Also set in motion, are the actions of one character in particular who doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but seems to be more charismatic than anyone else. He is unknown actor Alec Utgoff and plays Cherevin's son. He is a sleeper cell agent who hides out in Michigan until he is activated to carry out a devious plot. He plans on bombing the entire area of Manhattan's financial district while his father simultaneously initiates financial trades that will bring down the U.S. economy. As Aleksandr Borovsky, Utgoff says almost nothing. However, he's quietly menacing and exudes a heck of an amount of screen presence.

Now Branagh did direct the successfully suspenseful Thor so maybe he decided that it was time to helm movies of this genre for many years to come. To his credit, he does stage action scenes in a decent manner that someone who never saw a Jack Ryan movie, would be okay with. But it seems like there aren't too many camera setups or believable stunts here. As a result, nothing comes off as groundbreaking or challenging. When I think of action directors, Paul Greengrass, John Woo, and Walter Hill come to mind. When I think of Woody Allen collaborators and Hamlet, I go to Branagh. That however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's wrong with "Shadow". Chris Pine, so debonair and sleek in the Star Trek reboots, suffers here when he's forced to carry a whole movie without a huge cast surrounding him. He's neither believable as a rough and rugged butt kicker nor is he credible as a spy. Yeah he's got movie star looks, but he comes off as wooden and stiff. And it doesn't help that he trades laughable dialogue with his love interest played by Keira Knightly. Oh and speaking of Knightly, she swaps her British accent for an American one and as a result, looks and acts as if she has a mouth full of cotton. Then there's supporting player Costner, who piggybacks on his role from his earlier work in Man of Steel (he's starting to project the whole quiet, calming, engaging vibe). He does an okay job with his limited minutes on screen. But you wonder why he is always watching Pine do all the work while he just sits there in the background. Besides firing a gun a few times in one scene, Costner doesn't have a lot to do. And don't forget, he doesn't have a PhD like Pine's Ryan so his role is disposable and somewhat unnecessary if you will.

All in all, "Shadow" is by no means an awful film. But like I mentioned earlier, it's the type of familiar PG-13 hokum that leaves your brain the moment after you view it. Right from the get go, things open up with an annoyance of obligatory spy themed music (lots of violin work with a sped up tempo) and an abundance of computer gimmickry forcing me to call this thing the quote unquote, "laptop movie". There's a lot of computer mumbo jumbo going on not to mention a slick, shiny feel when it comes to the cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos (it's souped-up glitter without a pulse). And even though certain types of moviegoers might get a kick out of all the high tech stuff, what's on screen ultimately, is bland, lifeless, and to a huge degree, sterile.

Certain movies stay with you long after you see them. You pick up certain subtleties and see something new or fresh every time. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit sadly, does not possess this trait. Lacking any sort of intrigue (at 1 hr. 45 minutes, how can it), it's not a distance runner, but rather a dogged, 40 yard dash. Therefore, I don't plan on "recruiting" anyone to see it.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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