Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is similar to other spy caper films you’ve seen, with a few interesting exceptions. Ryan (Chris Pine) is not just an ex-Marine in the CIA, he’s also an economist. And the caper centers on world market trading dirty tricks by devious Russians—particularly Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh)—designed to destroy the US economy.

US Navy Commander Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) recruits Ryan for the CIA. He discovers him at Walter Reed Hospital as Ryan is rehabbing from injuries suffered in a copter crash in Afghanistan. Ryan finishes school, joins the CIA and goes to work on Wall Street to monitor economic terrorism.

Upon detecting suspicious activity in accounts run by Cherevin, Ryan chooses to go to Moscow to confront him. Ryan’s fiancé Dr. Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) decides to follow along and gets caught up in the effort to fend off the Russian assault on world markets.

Because economic intrigue is not quite enough to sustain an “action” film, a corresponding plot has a van filled with explosives, driven by a man intent on destroying Wall Street physically (even as the wicked Ruskies are planning to beat us down financially).

Okay, there’s a lot going on here and some of it works and some of it does not work. It’s good to see an older Costner in this leadership role. (Seeing him in Navy dress blues briefly recalls that 1987 film No Way Out.) Branagh, who directs the film, is surprisingly good as the Russian bad guy.

Knightley is gorgeous and has shown great acting skills in the past. But in JR:SR, she’s of little value beyond eye candy. Her chemistry with Pine is almost non-existent. Pine is good and, after becoming a star via the Trek movies, has the stature to take on the Ryan role. He defines “rugged good looks.” Guys can appreciate his derring-do and ladies can get lost in those blue eyes.

A couple of plot holes and quick resolutions of complicated business may cause one to say, “Huh?” But if you just play along you’ll enjoy the ride.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is okay for a January release. But that’s what it is, a January release. (Note of interest: it’s rated PG-13, so you can send you mom who hated Wolf of Wall Street to see this one.)

A Good Day to Die Hard

I like things that go boom.

A Good Day to Die Hard puts NYC policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Russia to visit his son Jack (Jai Courtney). Shortly after arriving, John encounters Jack, says a quick hello and gets involved in a spectacular car chase. The chase produces enough vehicle carnage to populate St. Louis’ biggest junkyard.

In short order, John learns that Jack is a CIA agent who is trying to get a political prisoner out of Russia. The prisoner wants to bring along his daughter, but the rendezvous with his offspring results in the prisoner’s being taken away by bad guys.

Willis maintains his trademark smirk throughout the film, dropping quips almost as frequently as he drops bad guys. There’s a bit of father/son bonding as dad helps his kid through some tight spots. Seems Jack has some resentment. He felt his father’s work as a cop kept him away from the family too much. At one point during their day of violent mayhem, they mention that they’ve sort of enjoyed the togetherness, such as it is.

Along with car crashes, A Good Day to Die Hard delivers voluminous amounts of gunplay, featuring automatic weapons that never seem to run out of ammo. The film is bookended by huge explosions: a Moscow courthouse bombing shortly after the opening and a copter crash at the finale. (Hope that’s not too much of a spoiler.)

A Good Day to Die Hard does not have a lot of in-your-face anger. Because of its quick pace, there’s not a lot of time to build tension. Many longtime fans of the Die Hard movies are not exactly saying Yippee-Ki-Yay in their online comments. But AGDTDH is kinetic, with action aplenty. And many things that go boom.