Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit review (Blu-ray)

More Bland than Bond, Boring rather than Bourne, Jack Ryan: Forensic Accountant is the third attempt to reboot Tom Clancy’s titular hero, Muppet Baby Captain Kirk Chris Pine manfully filling the Brooks Brothers suit and loafers vacated by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.

This time round Ryan’s been updated to better fit our post-9/11 geopolitical landscape. An economics student studying in London, Ryan drops out and enlists in the US Marines in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers and ships out to Afghanistan where, before you can say “Buckle that seatbelt!”, he’s crippled in a helicopter crash and shipped back to Walter Reed military hospital in Washington and the tender ministrations of skeletal med student and love interest Cathy (Knightley) who, without the aid of a montage, soon has him back on his feet. Ryan’s soon approached by veteran spook William Harper (Costner) who recruits Ryan into the CIA and sends him back to school to get his degree.

Fast forward a decade and rebooted Ryan’s no longer a mere analyst, he’s the CIA’s inside man on Wall Street, following the money and sniffing out the dodgy deals and shady slush funds used by terrorists and foreign powers to attack the US of A. When he discovers a series of hidden accounts and some questionable money transfers by Russian oligarch Viktor Cheverin (Branagh), Harper dispatches him to Moscow to perform a surprise audit and investigate just what Cheverin is up to.

Narrowly avoiding assassination, Ryan uncovers a Bond villain-worthy plot to destroy the US economy and devastate Manhattan but matters are complicated by the suspicious Cathy, convinced he’s having an affair, following him to Moscow and discovering he’s a spy. Can Ryan save America, the world and his relationship?

A deft, derivative and by-the-numbers wander through the wilderness of mirrors, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (the first Ryan movie not based on an original Clancy novel) is slick and streamlined without ever being terribly involving, even during its climactic race against time and is yet another action thriller where the protagonists spend much of their time on their iPhones and tablets, only occasionally indulging in shootouts and car chases when they lose their Wi-Fi.

As Ryan, Pine’s adequate, if slighter than Affleck was, though, like Mark Wahlberg in The Happening, it’s hard to see Pine as Clancy’s desk jockey turned reluctant action man. The attraction of Clancy’s Ryan was always that he was the smartest man in the room, an All-American boy scout riposte to Le Carre’s Smiley. The only time Pine’s the smartest man in the room he’s standing over the corpse of his would-be assassin.

Knightley’s obviously having fun as the suspicious girlfriend who makes a better spy than her man. She’s inevitably roped in to help save America by distracting Branagh’s suave villain (who has a weakness for “Vodka, vanity and women”) over dinner while Ryan breaks into his office. There’s little chemistry between her and Pine but you could cut the sexual tension between her and Branagh with a knife, Branagh the director bringing a light, playful touch (absent from much of the rest of the film) to his scenes as an actor.

The action scenes, though perfunctory, are well-staged by Branagh with a Bourne-esque toilet fight a particularly highpoint, but the film’s at its best in the smaller moments; a panicked Ryan calling in a clean-up crew after his first murder is forced to ask his controller to repeat herself and give him directions to his rendezvous, the wonderfully awkward first meeting between Ryan and Cheverin, their shared experience of Afghanistan “Different war, different empire, same graveyard,” every scene with Costner.

By far the best thing about the film, Costner’s deadpan CIA man is almost a parody of the classic world-weary spy, so reminiscent of James Coburn’s aging spook in Hudson Hawk that you expect him to point to a Muscovite café and wistfully announce: “I did my first bare-handed strangulation there,” and he gets to show the kind of action chops that should assure him the same late-blooming hard man status as Liam Neeson, taking out baddies with a high-powered rifle with the same amusingly bored air as he sorts out Ryan’s relationship difficulties “This is geopolitics, not couples therapy.”

An undistinguished but competent slice of skullduggery, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is slick, pretty, empty and bland – much like Pine’s leading man.

EXTRAS ★★★ There's an audio commentary with director/co-star Branagh and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura; the behind-the-scenes featurette Jack Ryan: The Smartest Guy in The Room (13:37); the featurette Sir kenneth Branagh: The Tsar of Shadow Recruit (9:49); the featurette Jack Ryan: A Thinking Man of Action (5:19); the featurette Old Enemies Return (21:13); and seven Deleted & Extended Scenes (5:03), with an optional commentary with Branagh and di Bonaventura.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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