"Jack Reacher" (Paramount) begins with a sniper killing five people, including a woman holding a 7-year-old girl, and ends in a fusillade of semiautomatic rifle fire. Between those disturbing visuals, it's a reasonably compelling detective story.
The hero of the title (Tom Cruise) -- a man seemingly without a past -- discerns the innocence of the falsely accused shooter, uncovers the evil corporate plot behind the crime, and dispenses his own brand of rough justice in a dystopian Pittsburgh.
That's right, Pittsburgh. The man knows how to take the crosstown Squirrel Hill bus and navigate a high-speed chase in a muscle car across the Fort Duquesne Bridge without hitting a single pothole.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has adapted Lee Child's novel "One Shot", ninth in the Reacher series. Reacher is a former military police officer who emerges from the shadows like a contemporary Shane, only by mass transit, not on horseback. He wisecracks in staccato bursts, and mostly defends himself with his fists, although he's an expert rifleman.
The troublesome aspect of the character is that he's an amoral avenger who prefers simply to kill rather than bring anyone before the justice system. This doesn't become clear until the end of the story.
The conspiracy's designated patsy is former military sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who, conveniently for those working against him, spends most of the picture in a coma because he was viciously beaten on his way to jail. Before that, he knows just enough of his circumstances to ask for Reacher.
Reacher knows Barr's troubled history from Iraq, where the sniper had killed American soldiers who were returning from a "rape rally." He also figures out, with the help of Barr's lawyer Helen (Rosamund Pike) that, of the five victims in Pittsburgh, only one was the intended target; the other four were for distraction.
Helen is the daughter of district attorney Rodin (Richard Jenkins), who may have a connection to the murder scheme.
Robert Duvall as Ohio gun store owner Cash fills in the rest of the plot points and is Reacher's backup in a nighttime quarry shootout.
"Who are you, mister, really?" asks Sandy (Alexia Fast), a young girl used by the bad guys to try to lure Reacher to his death. The audience never learns much more about the answer to that question than she does.
The film contains pervasive violence including gunplay, implied drug use and frequent profanity. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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