New Tom Clancy Spy Film Aims for the Jugular 

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit | B

Espionage, at least the sexy movie version with white tuxedos, shaken martinis and sleek sports cars, once offered a bit of cool comfort to a jittery populace that wanted to party while forever waiting for the countdown to nuclear zero. That doomsday never came, the big Soviet bear went into permanent hibernation, and the concept of spying slowly became complicated by a world in which even the president wiretaps his rivals, and exponential advancements in technology keep making it easier and easier for our paranoid government to spy, not just on the commie pinkos, but increasingly on us. 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit mourns the good old bad days, when the villains all had vodka on their breath, and the heroes had bellies full of gin, apple pie and all-American righteousness. In this case, the nostalgia is less for jet-set ’60s sophistication and more for the macho, unashamedly jingoistic ’80s, when Tom Clancy was actually a paperback writer and not just a posthumous, perpetual trademark. This latest reboot of Clancy’s most familiar character gets stuck somewhere between the style of the burly, analog Reagan era, and today’s sleek, relentless digital franticness, as popularized by the genre-busting “Bourne” flicks.

Jack Ryan himself remains a fairly generic character, this time supplied with an origin story that shows the bright, bushy-tailed young economics doctoral student enlisting in the Marines in the wake of 9/11. Gravely injured in Afghanistan, a recovering Lt. Ryan finds a love interest (Keira Knightley) and a mentor when a CIA agent (Kevin Costner) strolls into the hospital and offers the wounded warrior a new career path. Set up with a cover story as a Wall Street trader, Jack eventually uncovers an obscure Russian plot to boost the U.S. dollar before tanking it and triggering a massive depression. Despite being an analyst with zero field experience, Ryan is sent to Moscow to investigate, because, well, this is still an action movie after all. Once on the ground, our supposedly in-over-his-head desk jockey swiftly dispatches an attempted assassin in brutal fashion. This is the movie’s best sequence, filled with an electrifying tension as our novice secret agent is put through his paces. But all too quickly Ryan picks up the tricks of the trade and morphs into an indestructible super-spy, as the third act settles into a predictable groove.  Kenneth Branagh (pulling double duty as the director) makes for a compelling adversary, playing a Kremlin-backed gangster and veteran cold warrior with an undying grudge against the red, white and blue that vanquished the “Evil Empire.” Branagh strikes a complicated, seductive and tortured figure, on that would have made a good foil for Daniel Craig’s Bond, though his mostly credible accent does produce a giggle when he spits out the line, “I’m holding your bitch’s throat!” The throat in question belongs to Keira Knightley, overemoting as usual, though she’s a bit more spirited as the damsel in distress than other actresses who’ve played the role, such as Anne Archer and Bridget Moynahan. 

As for the title do-gooder, Chris Pine (the Star Trek reboots’ James T. Kirk — suggesting there should be a cap on how many franchises one actor can head) is a much more youthful and energetic Ryan than hangdog Harrison Ford, and a more appealing boy scout than Ben Affleck. That Jack Ryan can bounce around in age and physical specs like Dr. Who probably doesn’t speak too well for unique qualities in Clancy’s creation, but, for a decently adaptable action man of the moment, he gets the job done.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is playing at the Emagine theater, 200 N. Main St., Royal Oak, and is rated PG-13 with a running time of 105 minutes.

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