In the first
film fans of Lee Childs' many books about the lone drifter do-gooder ex-military cop thought Tom Cruise failed to measure up to the physique of the character.
But it was a solid enough action thriller and its director Christopher McQuarrie went on to direct Cruise in his fifth instalment of his longer-established, bigger-money, bigger-fun franchise Mission: Impossible.
The second Jack Reacher film, however, fails to measure up to just about everything - its source material, the expectations of a Cruise popcorn movie, its conspiracy thriller plot, its survivability as a franchise.
is a bad title but may prove good advice.
This time Cruise and a forgettable support cast is directed by Ed Zwick, whose previous Cruise gig was in Taranaki on The Last Samurai. He's one of Hollywood's more pedestrian directors and despite outbursts of Cruise-sprint - if you chop the air first, it clearly offers less resistance -the pace of this barely rises above a brisk walk.
It's the formulaic action flick the previous instalment avoided becoming, with action scenes impressing less for the committed bone-breaking fisticuffs but for the major déjà vu of the locations.
Never seen a fight in an abandoned factory or a deserted wharf or a restaurant kitchen? Or a chase scene through a colourful local parade then across the rooftops? Then this is your movie.
And when Cruise isn't busting chops, the visually dull Never Go Back can feel like a very long television episode of one of those shows with a military acronym for a title, complete with generic cast.
Here, even the henchmen seem to have their own henchmen, all decked out in interchangeably aggressive casualwear. That's except for the lead hitman, whose leather driving gloves show he's just that extra bit, well, driven. There is a big boss baddie behind the story of a rogue military contractor, but he turns up late and barely registers.
It starts out with some potential. Supposed loner Reacher must partner with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders from The Avengers).
She has his old Washington job in the US Army military police. After some flirting with on the phone, he turns up in DC to say hello, to find she's been charged with espionage.
First, he has to bust her out of the stockade. Then, he must locate the teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) he never knew he had as the goons chasing him and Turner are targeting her too.
Not much happens between Reacher and Turner as they go on the lam to prove her innocence. No battle-of-the-sexes humour, not even a little will-they-or-won't-they chemistry.
In this, Smulders is basically a female Cruise clone and jogging partner as they are chased from Washington to New Orleans to uncover the truth about the murder of two MPs under Turner's command.
Along the way, there's a fair bit of slipping prepaid phones into the pockets of others and then surprising them with a call later. Or maybe send a text that says: "Seeing we're all phoning it in, thought you might need this."
And when Reacher encounters his former military employers, he's addressed by his old rank. "Ex-Major," he invariably corrects them.
There's certainly something ex-major about Jack Reacher just two films in. The first Reacher flick worked well enough. But here Cruise is on a hiding to nothing.
Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge
Director: Ed Zwick
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 118 mins