Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher is a good action adventure procedural with a plotline that gets a bit convoluted. But everything works out in the end, with some help from a friend.

This film’s big problem is that it begins with a sniper using a high-powered rifle to take out five individuals. Should its release have been delayed after Newtown? Stay tuned for the blowback.

The sniper sets up in a Pittsburgh parking garage and shoots across the Allegheny River with deadly accuracy. When evidence points to one particular guy, that guy (a former military sniper) writes on a pad, “Get Jack Reacher.” Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, is a former Army policeman with a sketchy background who sets out to find the real killer.

He gets help from the district attorney’s estranged daughter, played by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike. The DA is played by Richard Jenkins, who is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s most dependable character actors. The daughter, Helen, claims her law firm wants to represent the alleged perp because her dad intimidates too many suspects into forced confessions. Flimsy reason, but without it, the film would have no blonde babe eye candy.

Reacher and Helen gather info on the victims and analyze the evidence. Meanwhile, they are forced to deal with bad guys who want to take them out of the picture, for reasons to be revealed later. Of course there’s a chase scene and it’s a good one that ends with Reacher’s clever escape.

Based on the alleged perp’s charge card bills, which show large gasoline purchases on weekends, Reacher suspects the guy had been driving to distant shooting ranges. Voila! When he finds the range where the guy shot targets, he gets vital information from and forms a vital association with the guy who runs the range, played by Robert Duvall.

As things get sorted out in the end, Duvall’s character provides an important helping hand and a spark of humor.

Wait, was there something missing in this movie? Yes! There’s no love scene between Cruise and Pike! Not even a kiss! The sexual tension that builds between them throughout the movie remains unfulfilled. Maybe something will happen in Jack Reacher II. (Yes, this feels like the first in a series.)

One more thing: I’ve never thought of Pittsburgh as a cool city. But the Steel Town looks good in this film, as well as in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Dark Knight Rises. But that Iron City Beer still sucks.

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Killing Them Softly

Brutality, gore and obscene language combine to deliver the year’s grittiest crime drama. Setting the film against the backdrop of the 2008 pre-election financial crisis could have been a genius move, but ultimately is just an amusing juxtaposition.

“Killing Them Softly” is not a classic but has several memorable characters and some funny dark humor.

The story: two novice hoods are sent to rob a card game that’s run by the mob. They’re nervous, but they pull it off. Brad Pitt plays a mid-level mobster whose mission is to avenge the robbery. Pitt tells a mob lawyer, played by Richard Jenkins in one of their many conversations, that he doesn’t like to get into his target’s faces, he prefers to kill them “softly, from a distance.”

He imports a gunman played by James Gandolfini to help with the killing. This subcontracted hitman has addictions, mainly booze and hookers, which render him basically useless. Also in the cast are Ray Liotta and Sam Shepard.

Cinematic highlights include one particularly violent shooting, presented in slow motion a la “Bonnie and Clyde.” Also effective is the movie’s opening whose audio switches sharply back and forth between hard rock music and Barrack Obama campaign speech soundbites.

Throughout the film we see and hear TV clips of George W. Bush making his case to congress for bailout money and references to the ’08 election. The message, apparently, is that the meltdown affected mob finances just as much as it did the rest of America.

To borrow a line from another president, let me make one thing perfectly clear: this is one of the more violent movies you’ll ever see. If that’s your thing, enjoy. If not, stay away.

“Cabin in the Woods”—(Scary Funny)

Five college students (three guys, two girls) drive an RV to a secluded cabin for a weekend of fun. Bad things happen. That’s about all I can reveal without venturing into spoiler territory.

If you’ve seen the preview trailers, you already know that the students are being watched. The watchers are in a control room with big screen TV monitors.

Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford play the mission control leaders. Their nonchalant, routine, ho-hum approach to their work, complete with joking, gossiping and side bets, belies the terrors that we know will ensue.

More humor comes from the stoner among the five, played by Fran Kranz. The only well-known actor among the college quintet is Chris Hemsworth who starred as Thor last year. (“Cabin” was shot in ’09 before he got the Thor role. He’ll be Thor again in the new “Avengers” movie coming in three weeks.)

In “Cabin,” as in many movies of this genre, tension builds slowly until the horror gets going. As the story proceeds to its resolution, things get really weird. Honestly, much of the weirdness is hard to describe. Just enjoy the ride.

“Cabin in the Woods” is not the scariest movie I’ve seen, nor is it the funniest. But it does a nice job of blending horror and comedy. Rated R for gore, language, weed and boobs.