Video Verdict: ‘Jack Reacher,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘Safe Haven’

Tom Cruise plays the title character in the thriller “Jack Reacher.” The film is based on the Lee Child novel “One Shot.”

Tom Cruise plays the title character in the thriller “Jack Reacher.” The film is based on the Lee Child novel “One Shot.”

This week’s home video releases cover a lot of territory ranging from action to romance. They also sport several big name stars, the most noteworthy being Jessica Chastain and Tom Cruise.

Jack Reacher

2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some drug material
Paramount
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

“Jack Reacher” has a lot of things going for it, but a nuanced script and reasonable character development aren’t among them. The movie – based on the Lee Child novel “One Shot” – revolves around its title character, a former military police officer who plays by his own rules.

Set in Pittsburgh, the film starts with a mass shooting where a trained sniper methodically assassinates five people, then drives away unnoticed. Police arrive at the crime scene shortly after the killings and obtain evidence leading them to a former U.S. Army soldier named James Barr (Joseph Sikora). Under interrogation, Barr refuses to talk, but he scrawls “Get Jack Reacher” on a legal pad. Intrigued, a police investigator named Emerson (David Oyelowo) and district Attorney Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins) attempt to find the man, only to learn that Reacher (Cruise) went off the grid shortly after completing a distinguished military career. Just when Rodin and Emerson decide that Reacher is a ghost, he walks through the door with a swagger.

These events are played out in the most melodramatic fashion possible, and they set the tone for everything that follows. Despite the fact that “Jack Reacher” is set in the real world, there is nothing realistic about it. The characters are painted with broad strokes that make them feel like comic book figures, and even their quirks are treated with bluster rather than style. For instance, viewers learn that Reacher has a photographic memory because he calls attention to it at every opportunity.

Viewers also learn that Reacher is a tough guy because he walks around acting invincible, and anyone who messes with him winds up in the hospital. The movie’s bad guys have slightly more depth, but this isn’t properly explored because director Christopher McQuarrie (“The Way of the Gun”) doesn’t give them enough screen time.

McQuarrie is, however, good at moving the plot forward. Despite the lightweight characterizations, “Jack Reacher” moves. The breathless pace will allow some viewers to overlook things like bad dialogue and nonsensical plotting, and there are worse guilty pleasures. The question is: “Why bother with this film when there are so many thrillers that are just as smart as they are fast-moving?”

The DVD release of “Jack Reacher” doesn’t have extra features, but the Blu-ray comes with multiple making-of bits and an audio commentary with Cruise and McQuarrie.

 

Mama

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for violence and terror, some disturbing images and thematic elements
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Because children are so naturally sweet and genuine, it’s terrifying to see a youngster acting otherworldly or possessed. Writer-director Andy Muschietti exploits this fact to great effect in “Mama,” the story of two orphaned sisters who spend five years in the woods fending for themselves without human supervision.

When the girls are finally discovered and given the opportunity to live with their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), it’s a difficult transition. Both girls are years behind developmentally, and their baggage includes an unfriendly ghost who isn’t willing to let them go. As in most ghost stories, the adults are slow to realize that they are witnessing supernatural events, even though viewers are given the full scoop immediately.

Since audiences know what’s going on long before Lucas and Annabel, director Andy Muschietti has the perfect setup for suspense. Some of his eeriest sequences, however, occur when he’s simply showing the girls acting as they did while living alone. With no other humans to imitate, they learned to walk rapidly on all fours and quickly disappear into the shadows, making them appear more animal than human.

“Mama” doesn’t add anything new to the ghost story genre. In fact, the plotting may seem redundant to people who watch a lot of horror. Still, Muschietti’s work with atmosphere and the film’s rapid pacing make it an enjoyable ride.

The movie also benefits from a fine cast. Chastain is particularly good as a young woman forced to become a parent under frightening circumstances. Also, Muschietti draws great performances from Megan Chapentier and Isabelle Nelisse, the youthful actresses who play the orphaned girls.

“Mama” would have been better if it brought something new to the table, but old ideas can be fun – and scary – when presented this well.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, the short film that inspired the feature and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.

 

Safe Haven

1½ stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving threatening behavior and for violence and sexuality
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels range from terrific (“The Notebook”) to bland (“Nights in Rodanthe”), and no matter how hard “Safe Haven” tries to elevate itself, it falls in the latter category. The movie starts fast, with a distressed young woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) running to a neighbor’s home in an obvious panic. In ensuing scenes, Katie escapes town on a bus while a rugged police detective (David Lyons) desperately attempts to track her. It’s halfway through the movie before director Lasse Hallstrom explains the opening sequence, and that leads viewers to all sorts of speculation. Is Katie a murderer? A witness to a crime? Something even more insidious?

The mystery presents tremendous potential, and it initially seems that “Safe Haven” is more than a traditional Sparks love story. But it isn’t. The film quickly falls into the author’s normal routine, with Katie striking up a tentative relationship with a handsome store clerk named Alex (Josh Duhamel). Alex is the typical Sparks lead: fetching and smart but obviously scarred. In this case, Alex’s wounds come from a recently deceased wife

Katie, as the setup implies, also has significant baggage, yet she is beautiful, charming and seemingly kind. Still, viewers are forced to watch Alex’s and Katie’s developing relationship with distrust because Hallstrom creates so much unease with his smash-bang beginning. If the movie were a mystery-thriller, that would be a good thing, but “Safe Haven” doesn’t fully embrace that genre. Instead, it’s a love story that doesn’t allow viewers to fall in love with the female lead. That’s a big problem, and Hallstrom takes so long to resolve it that the project never recovers.

The filmmaker also plays with point-of-view in a manner that isn’t entirely successful. This is frustrating not only because Hallstrom is generally a capable craftsman but because the move adds little to the story arc. He does, at least, produce an ending capable of jerking tears from sentimental audience members, but this isn’t nearly enough to repair the many problems that pop up earlier.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an alternate ending and deleted and extended scenes.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Superman – Unbound”: Animated DC movie in which Superman battles the dangerous villain Brainiac with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. Directed by James Tucker.

“Witness”: Four-part documentary series that follows professional war photographers into combat zones in Mexico, Libya, South Sudan and Brazil. The project, which originally aired on HBO, runs 187 minutes.

“30 Rock” – Season 7: Final season of the NBC comedy about the behind-the-scenes workings of a fictional TV show. The series was created by and stars Tina Fey. Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer also star.

“Private Practice” – The Complete Sixth Season: Final 13 episodes of the medical drama inspired by the ongoing hit “Grey’s Anatomy.” Kate Walsh, Paul Adelstein, KaDee Strickland, Taye Diggs and Amy Brenneman star.

“Fringe” – The Complete Series: This science-fiction TV series ended its five year run in January, and fans can now own all 100 episodes on Blu-ray or DVD. Those who already have seasons one through four, can also purchase the complete fifth season as an individual release.

“Flashpoint” – The Fifth Season: Final 13 episodes of the TV drama about an elite squad of Canadian police officers who are trained to resolve dangerous situations.

“Have Gun Will Travel” – The Final Season – Volumes 1 and 2: This 1950s and ’60s TV series about a gentleman gunfighter from San Francisco (Richard Boone) was a huge hit during most of its run. Paramount is releasing the final 32 episodes on two separate collections, each containing half a season.

“ID – A”: Danish thriller about a woman (Tuva Novotny) who wakes up in a river with amnesia and a bag full of cash. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen (“The Roommate”). Presented in Danish with English subtitles.

“Texas”: This 1994 TV movie details the years leading up to the Texas Revolution and the battle of the Alamo. Stacy Keach, Patrick Duffy, Chelsea Field and Benjamin Bratt star. Directed by Richard Lang.

“WWII From Space”: Documentary that uses computer-generated imagery to depict the major events of World War II from a global perspective.

“Citizen Hearst”: Documentary film detailing the history of the Hearst media empire from its earliest days to the present. Written and directed by Leslie Iwerks who received an Oscar nomination for her 2006 short film “Recycled Life.”

“Gunsmoke” – The Eighth Season – Volumes 1 and 2: Paramount divided the 38 episodes from the eighth season of this classic TV western into two separate releases. James Arness stars as U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon and Dennis Weaver portrays his faithful deputy, Chester Goode.

“The Great Escape”: Blu-ray debut of the 1963 movie about allied prisoners who conspire to escape from a German POW camp during World War II. Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Donald Pleasence star. Directed by John Sturges.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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1 Comment

Filed under Video Verdict

One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Jack Reacher,’ ‘Mama,’ ‘Safe Haven’

  1. Agree about the Hobbit. Going to see Les Mis tomorrow. I LOVED Lawless! Bought the DVD. Loved Forrest. Plus the music and secenry were great too.

    Like

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