The biggest problem with Jack Reacher is that it can't decide whether it wants to be taken seriously. One moment, we're piecing together the clues of a tragic multiple-murder; the next, we're watching a couple goofy goons as they unintentionally bludgeon each other with comedically mistimed bat swings. It's not fun enough to be The Expendables, not smart enough to be Bourne, and not smooth enough to be Bond.
Instead, it's just a whole lot of Tom Cruise. According to the public record, Mr. Cruise is simply star and producer, but I'd swear he wrote, directed, choreographed, and costumed the movie, all by himself. We get a fistful of Cruisian dialogue ("I mean to beat you to death, and drink your blood from a boot"); a plot brimming with undeserved confidence; impatient, overly-slick camerawork; and an extended shirtless hotel room scene, about five full minutes too long. Half an hour in, you'll wonder whether Cruise Industries paid off director Christopher McQuarrie (previously, The Usual Suspects--one of the top three crime films ever) to sign his name on the poster for promotional purposes.
Even so, somewhere between Jack's 6-vs-1 back alley fistfight and faux-profound discourse on the myth of the American Dream, the movie clicked for me. Jack Reacher was never meant to be serious, comedic, or even smooth, but rather, the full expression of all things Cruise, without limits, filters, or counterbalancing characters. Even the Mission: Impossible films—the most Cruise-centric of Tom's many movies—take care to soften some of the Cruisiness with characters who tease his intensity or question his unrelenting resolve. In Jack Reacher, we get nothing of the sort. Helen (Rosamund Pike, flat) plays the driven, by-the-book lawyer, who alternates between setting Reacher up for one-liners and looking mildly scandalized every time he responds. Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo, wide-eyed but efficient) serves as Plot Summarizer in Chief, reciting routine narrative developments as Reacher inserts quips or takes off his shirt. If there's one character who actually makes an independent, non-Cruisian mark, it's Cash (Robert Duvall, classically brilliant), who plays the weathered shooting range owner as well as you'd expect. He's the only one who seems completely unfazed by Cruise (both onscreen and, I suspect, off).
As such, your enjoyment of Jack Reacher will depend entirely on how much Cruise you can stomach. If, like me, you secretly loved Ghost Protocol, re-watched Tropic Thunder solely for the Tom Cruise cameo, and once had a brief, beer-enhanced revelation that yes, Minority Report should have beaten Chicago for Best Picture, you will make it through Reacher just fine. (Conversely, if you've already preordered your copy of Katie Holmes: Living a Lie, stay far, far away.)
Near the end of the film, Reacher stumbles upon a particularly sinister-looking baddie, then threatens to kill the man unless he talks. Right on cue, the scoundrel pipes up. "Were you really going to shoot him?" Helen asks (mildly scandalized). "I knew I wouldn't have to," Reacher replies in a gravelly whisper. "One look at this guy and you know he'll do anything to survive." For five seconds, the camera holds steady on Cruise's face, his eyes blazing, his face fixed in a smug smile, Helen and the villain waiting silently for Reacher's next move. It's arguably a microcosm of the movie as a whole. "One look at me," Reacher finally continues, "and you know I'm not bluffing." Trust him: he's not.