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Movie Review

Dating is difficult when you're a lonely, lethal drifter.

What would Jack Reacher's online profile look like, for instance? "I like Chinese food, long walks on the beach and the sound of breaking bones"? Can he get away with listing his hometown as "wherever the wind takes me"? Jack, the one-time legendary Army MP and current vigilante vagabond, has swiped hard drives, cars and the occasional baseball bat across someone's knees … but he's not one to swipe left.

But then he teams up with the Army's military police to bring down a couple of dirty cops and starts conversing with Maj. Susan Turner. She sounds just Jack's type: a no-nonsense soldier who … well, that's about all Jack knows about her. But hey, it's a start. They begin chatting regularly. Jack asks her if she'd like to grab dinner with him—y'know, sometime when he's in town. Susan considers it: Given that Jack mostly hangs out in the lands between "the middle" and "of nowhere," she's not holding her breath he'll be in Washington, D.C., anytime soon.

But she underestimates her voice's coquettish timbre. In less time than it takes to pull off a congressional filibuster, Jack's back in D.C., tromping up to Maj. Turner's office to ask her to dinner.

Alas, Jack is in for a shock. A man sits behind Turner's desk—a man who doesn't sound at all like Susan. Was the phone connection just that bad? No, the officer explains. Susan was recently arrested for espionage. And she may be responsible for the murder of two people under her command.

Well. Jack knows people sometimes go to crazy lengths to avoid blind dates, but this seems a little extreme. And Susan never sounded like a criminal on the phone. Jack smells a rat. Maybe several.

It's not long before Jack begins to suspect that there's a dark conspiracy at work here. He tells Susan's lawyer to get her imprisoned client moved before Susan gets mysteriously killed, just like her two inferiors. But before the lawyer can do so, he's dead himself. And Jack, because he was seen talking with the guy, becomes the prime suspect.

What? Both he and Susan have both been framed for murder? Why, that'll definitely give them something to talk about over dinner when they get out, won't it?

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Positive Elements

Jack and Susan both seek justice. Susan, an officer for the Army's military police, wants to find out who really killed the people under her charge … and what terrible secrets they discovered that warranted their murders. Jack wants to help Susan survive, clear her name and get her job back—all worthy goals.

Their adventure is significantly complicated when Jack discovers he may have fathered a child—a girl named Sam, now 15, who also finds her life imperiled. Obviously, we'll have more to say about that down below, but the relationship turns out to be the movie's positive emotional anchor.

Even as Jack questions whether he's really the girl's father or not, he begins to see himself as the dad the young woman desperately needs. Accordingly, he shows a willingness to sacrifice a great deal for her.

Spiritual Content

A woman with a baby goes to church. A hangout for addicts is referred to as "the ninth circle of hell."

Sexual Content

Jack and Susan both walk around a hotel room shirtless without much thought. (She wears a bra.) Later, in another hotel suite, Susan walks into Jack's room wearing just a robe, and they talk about what their date might've looked like. (Jack suggests they might've gone back to her place instead of returning to his "seedy hotel.") The moment is cut short due to an argument, and their fledgling romance appears to wither on the vine.

That doesn't stop Sam from asking Susan about their relationship. She first asks if Susan's gay—adding quickly that it's perfectly fine if she is, because she knows plenty of lesbians. When Susan says no, Sam says, "I thought all lady soldiers were gay." She then asks if Susan and Jack are a couple, or "friends with benefits," or what.

Sam's mother was apparently a prostitute. Jack is skeptical that he's Sam's father, though, later telling her, "I typically remember the women I sleep with." Still, there's enough doubt in his mind that he acknowledges the possibility. When he first speaks to her—before she knows who Jack could be—the 15-year-old girl seems to believe that Jack might want something "weird" from her.

Jack, Susan and Sam go to New Orleans, where the streets are clogged with scantily dressed revelers. A prostitute appears to flirt with a military official. Jack stops a human trafficking ring.

Violent Content

Shadowy malfeasance is rarely uncovered in movies without plenty of violence, and so it is in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

A military contracting organization called Para Source is at the root of the movie's conspiracy. An employee there murders a number people. He kills two in Afghanistan (where we see them get shot in flashback). He tortures a man duct-taped to a chair, punching him in the face and gut. (We later hear the victim was beaten to death.) Another man is pummeled, mostly off camera, with his own phone. (Again, we learn that he died from his injuries.) The killer, known as "The Hunter," guns down two police officers. Other Para Source employees try to kill people with heavy automatic weapons during a shootout. (One man dies during the battle, while another is wounded.)

But when these Para Source folks face Jack and Susan, they suffer greatly. Some appear to die in explosions. One man is shoved off a roof into a chimney, where he presumably perishes. Another has several limbs broken before his neck is snapped. Others get shot, sometimes with their own guns.

Jack punches a man through a closed car window, knocking him out. Still others get pummeled and coldcocked in a crowded passenger plane. Jack beats several people to the point of incapacitation, and we often see blood on their faces or on nearby walls. Evildoers trade punches and kicks with Jack and Susan, throwing both of the movie's heroes into walls or on tables.

Susan teaches Sam how to disarm an assailant. Someone threatens to send an innocent off a ledge, holding her by the hair. People have their necks grabbed threateningly. An "old hippie couple" Sam was living with is found shot to death. In flashback, we see explosions and battles in Afghanistan, killing some soldiers involved. Several folks end up on the ground outside a diner, bloody and beaten to several pulps. Someone gets zapped with a Taser.

Crude or Profane Language

Jack appears to say one mostly obscured f-word. Characters also use the s-word about a dozen times. God's name is misused about five times, twice with the word "d--n." Jesus' name is abused twice. Other profanities include "a--," "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "p-ss," and "d--k." Sam uses a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We learn that Sam's mother was a drug addict. Jack and Susan try to track down an Army vet now addicted to heroin. (We see the track marks on his arms.) We see bags of heroin. Other addicts are shown loitering. New Orleans revelers hold drinks, and many appear to be drunk.

Other Negative Elements

When Jack meets Sam, he watches her shoplift something. (He tells her he saw her do it, but doesn't make her return it.) She steals other things, too, including the phone and wallet from a private school student. Jack steals a wallet as well, and they use its contents to buy plane tickets. Jack steals money from his own attorney and takes a wad of cash (likely ill-gotten money) from an Army officer. He and Susan swipe a couple of vehicles. Everyone lies, naturally, in an effort to both stay safe and to apprehend the movie's villains. Sam sneaks out of a hotel room, much to Jack's and Susan's anxiety and annoyance.

Conclusion

CONCLUSION The title of this movie is Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

It's a lie.

Sure, maybe Jack doesn't want to go back, and maybe he's been pretty successful at it. When people call him "Major," referencing his previous career as an MP, he always corrects them. "Ex-major," he says. He likely sees his alleged daughter as an inconvenience at first—an impediment to getting Susan's name cleared and solving this nefarious crime. His whole life, it's suggested, is all about moving forward … even if forward is bleak and meaningless, another faceless stop in another easily forgotten day. In a sense, the movie suggests that Jack Reacher's life is a tragedy—a hopeless slog without any real connection.

But even if Jack doesn't go back—or, at least, doesn't want to—the movie itself does. It goes back to the tried-and-true formula that serves as the template for hundreds, maybe thousands, of the action-stuffed diversions that pack our theaters: "Brooding loner rides into town to right rights, kill bad guys and perhaps find much-needed connection," a succinct summary might read. That template wasn't original when John Wayne did it 70 years ago, and it sure ain't original now.

Everything is much like you'd expect it to be on this ride. The characters. The plot. The peril. The content. Oh, yes, the content is exactly what we'd expect in a PG-13 actioner: Lots and lots of violence, but not too much blood. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit. Danno, do we have the obligatory dozen s-words and a partial f-word in the script? Make sure we hit our quota! I wonder sometimes whether the MPAA's ratings have squelched creativity, what with action movies designed these days to fit snugly in either an R- or PG-13-rated box.

I suspect you could tell a fine, exciting story in a G- or PG-rated movie (and indeed, the history of cinema offers plenty of proof). These days, however, adults are asked to believe that those are movies for kids … not movies for them that they could also take their kids to.

Content-wise, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn't great, but it's not awful. Story-wise, it isn't terrific, but it's not terrible. It wasn't the worst movie experience I've ever seen, but would I buy tickets for it myself if I didn't work for Plugged In? Take friends and family to see it? I'd think I'd pull a Jack Reacher myself on that and say I'd never go back.

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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