Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the fourth attempt to turn Tom Clancy’s signature character into a franchise. It’s not like previous installments failed (they all delivered a handsome profit), but the actors around whom the saga was supposed to be built rarely returned.
This time, Chris Pine is the chosen one to portray CIA analyst Ryan. It’s a good match: Pine is a pretty boy whose acting method comes down to say “Hi, I’m Chris Pine, and now I’m the commander of the USS Enterprise.” Jack Ryan is an overgrown boy-scout with superior intelligence and no other discernible characteristics. Kettle, meet pot.
Shadow Recruit is supposed to work as an origin story, although it’s not based specifically on any of the Cold War-heavy potboilers penned by Clancy. Injured during a military operation in Afghanistan, Jack Ryan meets two significant people during his stint in rehab: His would-be fiancée Cathy (Keira Knightley) and a higher-up CIA officer (Kevin Costner) who notices Ryan has a talent to recognize patterns and predict future behavior.
Cut to ten years later: Ryan now works undercover in Wall Street (a veritable criminal nest), looking for funds linked to terrorists. His thankless mission is rewarded when a Russian entrepreneur starts buying large amounts of American currency despite economic instability. The red herring sends him to Moscow, where his practical skills as a spy are tested.
The best thing I can say about Shadow Recruit is that is short and consistent. Director Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the main villain, Viktor Cherevin) keeps the ball rolling and succeeds at being entertaining, although at no point the audience is given a chance to become invested. Branagh, Knightley and –surprisingly- Costner are particularly good in token roles (the big bad Russian, the girlfriend, the grizzled mentor), to Chris Pine’s chagrin.
Unfortunately, instead of pressing on the international intrigue, the film follows the Jason Bourne formula and attempts some gritty action scenes without the artistry of Paul Greengrass. The outcome looks cheap and the ending, severely anticlimactic.
If anything, it’s worth mentioning Shadow Recruit certifies the return of the Russians as Hollywood’s preferred antagonists, after a lengthy stint by indistinguishable Arabs. Call it the Putin Effect.
Two and a half prairie dogs in a raincoat.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit opens tonight.