“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” Makes Spy Games Dull [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Phil is an authorblogger and Twitterer.

RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)

When you hear there’s a movie called Jack Ryan: Shadow Agent, questions come to mind. Such as, what global intrigue has international superspy Jack Ryan gotten into this time? Which sinister country is trying to destroy the United States, and how will he derail their evil plans? Why isn’t there a video game of the movie out yet?

And, most importantly, who the hell is Jack Ryan?

The answer to the last one is, That Guy. As in, That Guy created by Tom Clancy and played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October, and by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and then by Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears. If you’re lucky enough to be in your 20s, you’ve probably never heard of any of those movies–and if you have, it’s because you’ve spotted VHS copies of the movies on the shelf of your creepy, military surplus store-shopping, militia-member uncle.

This new one, directed by Kenneth Branagh, tries to go the Batman Begins/Casino Royale route by showing what Jack Ryan like when he was a teensy little baby Jack Ryan played by Chris Pine. Finally, we get a peek into how Ryan’s career as an international superspy got started, and it becomes clear and present why that story had yet to be told — because it was really, really dull.

Before he started taking down nuclear submarines, flying out of helicopters and stabbing terrorists in the skull, it turns out Ryan was a keyboard-tapping dork who searched through bank documents all day. And then one day things get a little crazy when Ryan gets dun dun duuuuhn — Shadow-Recruited! An intelligence honcho played by Kevin Costner shadow-recruits Ryan to go to Moscow, where his job is to… sit at a computer and search through Russian bank files. He also does such fascinating and exciting things as taking Evil Russian End Boss Cherevin (Branagh) out to dinner and arguing with his annoying, stalker girlfriend (Keira Knightley), who searches through his pants pockets and sneaks into his hotels when he’s abroad. All the while, Ryan uncovers an impossibly dull plot by the Russians to cause a stock market scare and coordinated terrorist strike that–wait for it–weakens the U.S. dollar.

There’s plenty of action in the movie–especially in the latter half–but it’s unconvincing because this version of Jack is such a dull boy that it’s impossible to buy the James Bond-like dynamo into which he suddenly transforms. Pine did an amazing job as a boisterous and daring Captain Kirk in the rebooted and revitalized Star Trek series, but he dials it back so far as nebbish, uneasy Jack Ryan that you expect the Russians to stuff him into a locker like he’s Screech from Saved by the Bell.

The old Jack Ryan movies made you want to be Jack Ryan. This one only makes you pity him. If the movie has a true villain, it’s Knightley’s character. She only exists only to whine, nag, get kidnapped, and keep her mouth inexplicably wide open at all times. You want to tap on poor Jack Ryan’s shoulder and hand him your uncle’s VHS tapes where the killjoy girlfriend isn’t around and he’s singlehandedly stopping the nuclear destruction of the planet, while assuring Jack that things get better.

The reality, though, is that this is probably how it all ends for the left-for-dead franchise. Jack Ryan has probably encountered the one enemy he can’t overcome — audience apathy.

Starring Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh. Written by Adam Cozad and David Koep, based on characters by Tom Clancy. Directed by Branagh. Rated PG-13. 105 minutes.

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