‘Jack Reacher’ Review: A Great/Terrible Stinker/Delight

Whether you’re loving or hating Tom Cruise’s new action tentpole, just wait five minutes — you may change your mind entirely

When sitting down and watching movies for work, I do my best to keep an open mind and to remain receptive to films as they present themselves. It’s difficult sometimes, but I always try not to make up my mind one way or another until the final credits roll.

But then you get a movie like “Jack Reacher,” which makes you hate it. And then love it. And then hate it again, going back and forth like some crazy tennis match until all that’s left is to make a list of pros and cons to see how it all shakes out:

I hated … the fact that the movie opens with a mass shooting. Yes, it’s not the fault of writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (adapting Lee Child’s novel “One Shot”) that his movie is opening in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. But it is — and you should be forewarned that the very first scene in this movie involves a gunman firing a high-powered rifle into a crowd of passersby outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

I loved … that after I got over my initial discomfort at this unfortunately timed development, I was able to admire the clinical efficiency with which McQuarrie captures the opening crime, the subsequent investigation and the arrest of a suspect, all in five or so very economical minutes.

I loved … how, when said suspect refuses to talk or to sign a confession but instead scrawls “GET JACK REACHER” on a legal pad, this origin-story movie takes its time to show us our hero’s face, instead depicting him waking up in a Florida hotel room with a lady, seeing the perp on CNN, walking into Goodwill for a new wardrobe and hopping a bus to Pennsylvania before revealing him as, ta-da! Tom Cruise, ladies and gentlemen!

I loved … seeing two of my favorite current character actors, Rosamund Pike (“An Education,” “Made in Dagenham”) and David Oyelowo (“Middle of Nowhere”) score a big paycheck by getting cast in a flashy Hollywood movie.

I hated … watching them get stuck playing, respectively, The Girl and The Cop Who Is Not as Awesome as Jack Reacher.

I loved … the airport-novel way that the plot unravels into onion layer after onion layer of conspiracy and misdirection and hidden motives, and that at the center of the onion we find none other than legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, playing a creepy Russian kingpin missing fingers after his stint in a Siberian prison.

I hated … that said conspiracy plot makes less and less sense the more I think about it, and that all the setups and frame-ups wind up seeming like a very complicated way to perform a fairly prosaic crime.

I loved … the no-nonsense car chase in which the cops pursue Reacher, who is in turn pursuing the real bad guys who have set him up, even though the lead-in to this chase involves Reacher miraculously catching up to henchman Charlie (the exceedingly forceful Jai Courtney), who has a several-mile head start in a city where he could have driven off in any direction.

I loved and hated … the music by Joe Kraemer, which occasionally underscores the crime scenes with all the piano-chords-of-doom and strings-of-danger you’d imagine in an old Quinn Martin–produced 1970s cop show, but then at other times works itself into so much of a lather that it overpowers whatever’s happening visually.

I loved … how surprisingly funny “Jack Reacher” is, from a throwaway gag regarding the name of an auto parts store (my favorite out-of-nowhere joke in 2012 since the billboards in “21 Jump Street”) to a fight scene that becomes slapstick brilliance to Cruise’s unbreakable deadpan to the much-needed third-act incredulity injected into the film by Robert Duvall as a salty old gun-range owner.

So yes, ultimately, my enjoyment of “Jack Reacher” winds up outweighing my dislike, but it was a bumpy road to get there. If you’re ready for that kind of jostling, take the trip yourself.