The shadows for “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” fall over the movie and the actors themselves. When did Kevin Costner become an old man? What happened to Keira Knightley’s rise to stardom? Why has a relaunch of Tom Clancy’s heroic CIA analyst fallen into the January dump period, especially when it, at least, is not a disaster?
There’s certainly nothing shadowy about the chosen story for this intended reboot. This isn’t the first time that the elements of the plot have seen the broad daylight. The Russians are ready to crash the American economy. To do so, they plan to stage a terrorist attack somewhere in America. The mastermind of the plot is a Russian businessman (Kenneth Branagh, who directs), in a nation where nice guys finish not only last but dead. Jack Ryan (Chris Pine), new CIA recruit, discovers something shady while pondering a set of data. He journeys to Moscow to uncover the plot, where he dodges shootouts, car chases, and a suspicious girlfriend.
Shadows from the past stretch from the toes of the Jack Ryan predecessors– “The hunt for red october,” “Patriot games,” “A clear and present danger,” “The sum of all fears.” They are not quite great films, but sturdy, lasting entertainment vehicles. They are helped by Clancy’s detailed knowledge of spycraft and his ability to convey it first in print and then celluloid. There are neat, smart twists and touches to “Shadow Recruit,” like the way that a little fresh paint gives away the plan. But on the whole, it feels like a step down in quality.
Shadows of Harrison Ford, the best known Jack Ryan of the past, also linger. That’s a long unfair shadow, but it’s there nonetheless. There’s always something about Pine that makes him seem like a junior member. That works for a young Captain Kirk or the rookie in “Unstoppable,” but it doesn’t really work with a CIA agent, even a newcomer. On the other hand “Shadow Recruit” has a pair of likable performances from familiar faces. As a CIA veteran, Costner cooks in a comfort food presence. I’m always pleased to see Knightley when she’s sharp, although she would be a better fit in a Weinstein flick.
There’s something familiar about “Shadow Recruit.” It’s a trip back to the time of spy vs. spy movies and rote Russian baddies. For most viewers, that will seem either comfortable or boring. While sitting, typing, and thinking about it, it seems to have had the weight of a shadow and lasted about as long.