Not all ticking clocks are made equal. When Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) warns, "Once I start the audit ... " you just might black out from boredom. That's the kind of countdown only an IRS agent could love.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit — yet another reboot of Tom Clancy's signature creation/cash cow — is the kind of shrugging action movie jury-rigged for a January audience starved for fresh entertainment. (Even so, the film drew middling numbers in its opening weekend.)
Writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp plod through the lengthy opening, which reframes economics whiz Ryan as a post-9/11 enlistee in the Marines who is eventually tapped to be an analyst for the CIA and work undercover on Wall Street.
The first Jack Ryan picture not sourced from a Clancy novel, Shadow Recruit modernizes Ryan's biography without injecting anything particularly original into the franchise or the intelligence genre. A high-stakes motorcycle chase; a control room of analysts barking as they plink away on their computers; an Energizer Bunny-like baddie who won't stay dead: We've seen it before — and better — in the Bond, Bourne and Mission: Impossible franchises.
Those films also understand how crucial it is to have tertiary characters who are quick with a quip or possess a quirk or some glimmer of magnetism — they provide texture and elevate the generic to the specific. What's startling about Shadow Recruit is the thinness of its bench. The starting lineup isn't bad, although they all come with an asterisk. Pine can do "likable everyman hero" in his sleep, but there are few Hollywood leading men with shoulders broad enough to carry two franchises, and he's better as the rakish Captain Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. Kevin Costner, as Ryan's CIA handler, does his low-key rumply thing — he has a nice bit with a dog — and he's fine. Director Kenneth Branagh casts himself as a Russian business magnate moonlighting in economic terrorism, but he's too controlled to maximize the character's zealotry.
As a director, Branagh also is in the midst of a reboot, shaking off his heir-to-Olivier mantle to rebrand himself as a big-budget action guy. He fared better with the fun, faux-epic bombast of 2011's Thor, which dovetailed in its own way with his previous work spoon-feeding Shakespeare to the masses. Shadow Recruit has no such ambitions: Branagh might as well have opened a can and dumped it on a plate, the ridges of a factory-line production still perfectly visible on a gelatinous cylinder of crud. ♦