If you're going to reboot a franchise, you might as well call Chris Pine. In "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," he slips into Ryan's shoes as easily as he did Captain Kirk's in the "Star Trek" reboot.
Tom Clancy's titular character has previously been played on the big screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, all of them with essentially the same back story - a former Marine who's injured in a helicopter crash, leaves the military and is recruited by the CIA as an analyst, though we've never seen it. Here, we do.
When we first meet Pine's Ryan, he's in London working on his PhD in economics. The date? 9-11-01. He's walking across campus when students start running past him. He follows and winds up at a TV with others, watching the World Trade Center burn.
Eighteen months later, Jack is now Lieutenant Ryan, serving in Afghanistan when his helicopter goes down. He winds up at Walter Reed hospital, wallowing in self-pity and overmedicating on pain pills. It's also where he meets Cathy - Keira Knightley, who seems uncharacteristically uncomfortable in this role - a physical therapist and Jack's eventual love interest.
Enter Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who purports to be a highly-decorated Navy officer. Of course, Jack sees right through him - he knows Harper has been watching him. Harper offers to bring Jack into the CIA as an economics expert who will work on Wall Street to infiltrate possible terrorist economic plots. It's exactly what Jack needs to speed his recovery.
Ten years later, Jack's working on Wall Street and living with Cathy when the CIA's investment in him pays off: he discovers some economic malfeasance going on in Russia. Up until this point, Jack has never been active in the field, has never had a physical altercation, never had to shoot a gun, and certainly has never had to kill anyone. When he's sent to Russia to investigate, he gets to cross all of those things off of his bucket list.
Really, though, Jack doesn't have a proclivity for any of these things, and Pine plays that aspect of Ryan perfectly. He's the right combination of bookish and charming; instead of playing the reluctant hero, he is the reluctant hero.
Director Kenneth Branagh is turning into quite the action helmer ("Thor," uncredited work on "Iron Man 2?), and he does a nice job here ratcheting up the tension while keeping an over-the-top and unbelievable script relatively believable (you won't break a sweat trying to keep your disbelief suspended). He even plays the Russian bad guy.
Even though it often wades in clichéd waters, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is ultimately a satisfying thriller. I hope it does well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, and not just because Pine is excellent in this role. I think next time, they can do even better.
Three-and-a-half out of five stars.
ALSO OPENING NOW:
"The Nut Job" is a 3D animated film about a squirrel who doesn't like to share his nuts. The squirrel I speak of is named Surly (voiced by Will Arnett). Surly is purple and lives up to his name. With the exception of a mute rat named Buddy who follows Surly everywhere, our hero is pretty much a loner - and also a rabble-rouser, drawing the ire of park leader Raccoon (Liam Neeson) and disdain from the other animals who live there.
Before long, it's going to be winter, and all of the animals - squirrels, birds, raccoons, mice, rats - are collecting food. Only this year, there's a shortage. Surly has no desire to contribute. Instead, it's every squirrel for himself, and he has his eye on a nut cart in front of the park. A female squirrel named Andie (Katherine Heigl) has also discovered the cart, but she wants it for the park, not just for herself.
Andie and the park hero, anther squirrel named Grayson (Brendan Frasier), are dispatched by Raccoon to retrieve the nuts from the cart. But thanks to Surly, things go awry and Raccoon and friends decide it's time to banish him from their beloved park. Once he's forced to survive the mean city streets, Surly will surely change his ways. Right?
Salvation will come in the form of a nut shop, which is really a front for a few bank robbers. At first, Surly plans to rob the robbers and keep all of those nuts for himself, but one thing leads to another and the animals from the park get involved.
Yes, your small children will enjoy these talking animals and there's a nice lesson about sharing and putting others and the community at large before yourself. Because this is a rather unoriginal film with little imagination, there's also lots of farting involved, and let's just say, it's not a gas. "The Nut Job" would've been better as a 10-minute animated short and not a feature-length film. It simply lacks the sophistication and intelligence we've seen from so many other animated family offerings over the last decade.
Two out of five stars.