To his credit, Star Trek's Chris Pine is far better than you're likely expecting as Jack Ryan in Hollywood's fifth go-around with this familiar yet not even remotely iconic character created by novelist Tom Clancy. Pine is the fourth actor to portray Ryan in five films, the others being Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Alec Baldwin and while I'd be hesitant to call his performance the best of them all there's no question that he offers a fresh, disciplined and entertaining take on the all too familiar Cold War set in modern times.
Pine's Ryan kicks off in September, 2001 (remember that month?) as one of many college students of that time inspired to join the military after the 9/11 attacks. We fast forward to 2003, where Ryan's a soldier who gets injured in a helicopter attack and sent to Walter Reed for recovery where he encounters the film's love interest, a beautiful medical student (Keira Knightley). He ends up getting recruited as a financial intelligence analyst for the CIA by William Harper (Kevin Costner) and after awhile discovers an effort by the Russkies, one in particular (Kenneth Branagh), to manipulate the U.S. financial situation in more ways than one.
The film that follows is a standard-issue thriller absent of almost anything resembling an actual thrill. While there's nothing particularly wrong with having a retro vibe and choosing to serve up a more humanity-based thriller, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit feels more formulaic than intentionally retro despite director Kenneth Branagh's best efforts as both the film's baddie and the film's director.
There is one scene in the film, in particular, that is clearly designed to be the film's absolute center of tension and attention, but the actual set-up, which involves Ryan and his beautiful companion playing Mr. Obvious while attempting to distract their Russian counterpart, is so painfully obvious that even before the scene has completely played out you'll likely find yourself muttering in disbelief.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is practically the definition of a functional thriller, a film that never manages to live up to the sum of all its parts yet also a film that remains a fairly breezy and unoffending view throughout. It may not necessarily feel like a Jack Ryan film because, well, it's actually just a film based more upon the character of Ryan and not actually a Clancy novel.
Pine sort of comes off as light and breezy Ryan, as well, a Ryan where the PG-13 rating makes sense because he actually seems incapable of anything resembling R-rated action. Pine's performance won't necessarily make you forget those who've come before him, but neither will he make you long for them. Keira Knightley manages a far better American accent than usual, while Hollywood vets Branagh and Costner pretty much steal the show with performances that are energized, inspiring and old school fun.
While he hasn't crafted a particularly original film, Branagh has crafted a competent film that holds up reasonably well on its own even if all the action sequences never really add up to anything involving or thriller.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a mostly forgettable popcorn flick that will be easy enough on the eyes to please those needing an action fix and who don't want to bother with the awkward pairing of Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. While you'll be challenged to remember anything that happens here within minutes of leaving the movie theater, you should be pleased enough while you're actually in your seat to make the film worth your while.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic