Does the name Jack Ryan sound familiar? He’s the super-CIA-guy hero of a bunch of best-selling techno-thrillers by the late Tom Clancy. Jack’s been the hero of four movies, all based on Clancy books: “The Hunt for Red October” (1990), played by Alec Baldwin; “Patriot Games” (1992) and “Clear and Present Danger” (1994), in both, played by Harrison Ford; and “The Sum of All Fears” (2002), with Ben Affleck doing the honors.
It’s been a dozen years since the last movie. So “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” aims to be a series reboot. Chris Pine plays Jack. Pine is best known as Kirk in the two most recent “Star Trek” movies. The actor’s smoldery and swaggery (those lips, those eyebrows!), which, as Clancy readers know, Jack most certainly is not.
As it happens, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” isn’t adapted from any of the novels. In fact, it didn’t originate as a Jack Ryan story. Adam Cozad’s original script (he now shares writing credit with David Koepp) was called “Dubai.” Now it’s mostly set in Moscow, with stops along the way in London, Afghanistan, Washington, D.C., New York, and (sure, why not) Dearborn, Mich. Maybe all those alterations are why the movie feels so generic, in its high-gloss, big-budget way. “Jack Ryan” is slick, loud, assured, overplotted (way overplotted), fairly diverting, and pretty much empty.
Another reason it might feel so generic is that Kenneth Branagh directed. Branagh made the leap from Shakespeare to Stan Lee, you will recall, with “Thor.” Is one man’s Norse god another’s budding clandestine operative? Budding, because this is a Jack Ryan origins story. The movie opens, quite shamelessly, with grad student Jack learning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Branagh loves to keep his camera moving. It’s as if he’s playing a game of musical chairs and always losing. He also seems to think that relentlessly edited action sequences have to be confusing. Apparently, Branagh’s never seen a Paul Greengrass movie.
The giddily preposterous story is like the Cold War all over again, only this time with billionaires. Russia seeks to precipitate a second Great Depression and bring the US economy to its proverbial knees.
How it’s going to do that, you don’t really want to know. Who’s going to do it is Branagh, as an oligarch so nasty he beats up his own medical attendant. Worse, he slaps Keira Knightley. She’s Ryan’s fiancée, Cathy. Knightley’s American accent is nearly as good as Branagh’s Russian one. Unfortunately, whenever she says “Jack” you keep thinking she means Sparrow and expect the camera to cut to Johnny Depp. Nope, she means Ryan, and we get Pine.
He’s good enough, in that smoldery-swaggery way. Kevin Costner, as Jack’s CIA boss, makes him look like even more callow than he’s supposed to be. For a few years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Costner was the hottest male star in Hollywood. It seemed a mite unfathomable at the time. He’s eased so well into the master’s age bracket that that former status now starts to make some sense. Costner doesn’t look much older, but he seems a lot wiser. As Jack explains to him the ins and outs of Branagh’s dastardly scheme, Costner seems on the verge of muttering “Kremlin of Dreams.”Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.