Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years. Tom Clancy’s famous Jack Ryan hits screens this weekend looking very familiar– at least to fans of the Jason Bourne and James Bond (minus the martini) franchises. What’s missing, though, is the scholarly, everyman-ish character who saved the day in Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October. It’s almost as if (gasp!) screenwriters David Koepp and Adam Cozad were just trying to capitalize on the Clancy name.

To be fair, the first ten minutes of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit follows Clancy’s original storyline. Our hero (Chris Pine) is severely injured in a helicopter crash, leaving him with a serious back injury. Here endeth the Clancy.

In physical therapy he meets would-be fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) and CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), the latter of which recruits Ryan to join up as a counter-terrorism analyst on Wall Street.

With the Cold War (Clancy’s mainstay) long-since over, Koepp and Cozad needed a new menace, and they apparently couldn’t come up with anything more sexy than a hopelessly convoluted plan by (natch) the Russians to devalue the American dollar. So Ryan is off to Moscow, leaving a suspicious Cathy behind.

Immediately upon landing, Ryan is nearly killed at the hands of a Russian assassin, but his Statham-like tactics (which he learned behind a desk on Wall Street?) help him escape and live to fight the head baddie, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed).

To call Shadow Recruit a reboot (or, worse, a prequel) is, alas, a bit of a stretch. With the exception of the names “Jack Ryan” and “Cathy” and the helicopter crash, there’s not much here that Clancy fans will recognize. Don’t get me wrong, though, the film still manages to succeed on its own merits…albeit barely.

Despite being saddled with a script full of run-of-the-mill espionage fare (Do we really need one more scene wherein the hero successfully transfers hacked computer files to a flash drive just before the bad guys get back to their office?) Branagh (Thor) proves he has successfully abandoned his long-ago Shakespearian days. (Seriously, this is the same guy who gave us that four-hour version of Hamlet back in 1996?) The tautly filmed action sequences (car chases, shootouts, Mission:Impossible-style break-ins) are what you’ll remember from Shadow Recruit, but Branagh does equally admirable work throughout.

…at least behind the lens. His portrayal of Cherevin comes off as more Boris Badenov than anything else, and Knightley’s attempt at an American accent is shaky at best. Fortunately, Pine’s charisma makes up for it; he easily carries the day, and Costner, too, seems to be back in top form.

The end result is a decent-not-great diversion, and even though any resemblance to the actual Jack Ryan may be purely coincidental, Shadow Recruit still survives as a fairly entertaining spy flick. (p.s. Branagh dedicated the film to the Clancy, who passed away last October.)

3/5 stars