Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit represents Paramount’s attempt to reboot the Tom Clancy-created character for the big screen, in the obvious hope that he can be their very own gay marriage of James Bond and Jason Bourne; a gestalt globule of clean-cut action-espionage goodness.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about CIA hotshot Ryan is that for all his proven punch at the box office (over three-quarters of a billion and counting…), he’s never been allowed to settle into much of a series groove, with no fewer than three stars (you know the guys) portraying him across no less than four prior screen outings (you know the movies). This time out, the actor entrusted with the role is Chris Pine, lilo-lipped golden child of another of Paramount’s money-minting brands, Star Trek.
Shadow Recruit finds Pine in the directorial clutches of Kenneth Branagh, fresh from his own behind-the-camera blockbuster success with Marvel’s Thor. The newly inaugurated Knight of Her Maj’s Realm is on acting duties too, playing his own movie’s Big Bad – one Viktor Cherevin.
Cherevin is a villainous tycoon; a Trump gone bad (well, bad-er), a Branson turned Manson, an Alan Sugar gone sour. He’s the suspected terrorist mastermind who Ryan is dispatched to Moscow to spy upon, in an effort to suss out what epic act of evil-doing the rascally Ruskie is plotting against the good ol’ US of A. Although the way Sir Ken plays Cherevin, he’s less oligarch and more wally-garch, so terminally dense does he come across.
Sounding like Tom Lehrer doing his Lobachevsky skit and, with his square specs and dark hair, looking like a hungover Joe Pasquale, Cherevin spends much of his screen-time labouring through a series of piss-poor Bond villain exchanges with Pine’s Ryan, as the pair hold their very own and exceedingly difficult-to-judge ‘Who’s The Biggest Thickie?’ contest.
It’s a title the Russian eventually walks away with, by virtue of him allowing a pretend-drunk Ryan to slip away from dinner with him, to raid his skyscraper HQ mere hours before he launches one of the most humungous acts of terrorism in the entire history of the whole world ever – and that’s despite the fact he already knows Ryan is out to nail him and he’s tried to have the American assassinated by an overweight man in brown slip-ons.
But, to be completely fair and impartial, Ryan does give Chevy Cherevin one hell of a run for his roubles in the grotesque stupidity stakes.
As written by his late creator Clancy, Ryan is a real sharp tack, going from Wall Street to a professorship to the CIA and eventually the White House. In Shadow Recruit (the first Ryan movie NOT to be based on a Clancy novel), he’s so dumb he goes to a cinema to meet a contact and leaves the ticket stub in the pocket of his trousers which he then leaves on the floor of his apartment for doctor girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) to find.
Mind you, it’s clear from the early scene where our zero of a hero is first recruited by Commander Harper (Kevin Costner) that idiocy torrents through the Company like shit streaking through a sewerage system.
Having just been informed by Harper that he’s being sent to Wall Street to work undercover as an analyst, Ryan asks “Covertly?”, doubtless picturing the nubile blonde he can lure into the stationary cupboard for a fumble on his first day with his bragging about being in the CI-frickin’-A. “That means you can’t tell anyone,” replies Helpful Harper, giving his new charge a handy lesson in stating the bleeding obvious.
It’s tempting to blame the actors for these interminable exchanges with which the movie is littered. Certainly Pine, saddled with an unflatteringly utilitarian bog-brush haircut, plays Ryan with all the anti-charisma of Andy Roddick; he’s a white bread bastard with a laser focus on achieving success as defined by the ossified turds floating in the great golden toilet bowl of the establishment. Keira is blandly ideal as his female accoutrement of choice, the beige curtains to his ecru wallpaper.
Of course, the script has to shoulder a fair chunk of the blame – although it’s often hard to believe that Pine, Branagh and co. are actually reading from a script, so continually witless is every word to emerge from their lips. It feels more like they’ve all been shoved in front of the cameras and just told to say whatever half-remembered bit of dialogue from whichever cornball action movie springs to mind first.
What this tsunami of dreck leaves us with is precisely one decent sequence across the entire film: a car chase which sees Ryan frantically pursuing Cherevin and the kidnapped Cathy.
Once the two foes have finished sparring over the phone, the Russian threatening to feed Keira a light bulb as they do so (she does look thin…), the scene culminates in a breathless showdown where Shadow Recruit FINALLY finds the Bourne-alike pitch which so completely eludes it throughout the rest of its, quite frankly rubbish, runtime.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is released in the UK on 24 January