‘Jack Ryan’ a fun, campy espionage flick

By Ian Flanagan / Staff Writer

 “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh

Grade: B-

While Oscar-yearning holdovers from 2013 will entertain the artsy crowds, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” with its competent direction and endearing sense of fun, will leave the mainstream movie-going audience with more than the typical half-baked schlock commonly found in theaters in the first few months of the new year.

Though it may be marketed as a grand action blockbuster in which no presumed protagonists should be considered allies to our lead, the actual product is quite different — a Cold War-style espionage B-movie that attempts to thrill with political and economic themes as much as car chases and gunplay. And despite a decent number of plot twists, the film’s loosely drawn and oversimplified characters leave no doubt over the allegiance of our heroes and villains.

Ignoring the four previous Jack Ryan films (which were not tightly linked, themselves, and in which Ryan was played by actors such as Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck), “Shadow Recruit” acts as a reboot to the Tom Clancy-inspired film franchise. After a devastating helicopter crash, marine Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) enters physical therapy, where his doctor and future girlfriend Cathy (Keira Knightley) aid him in his recovery. Once recuperated, Jack is enlisted by Thomas Hooper (Kevin Costner) to become a CIA agent working undercover as an analyst on Wall Street. After a decade without causing much trouble, conniving Russian villain Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) poses a terrorist threat that could also involve a devastating economic collapse of the United States, forcing Ryan to return to active service.

If the film were executed more sloppily, it would be fair to say that director and star Kenneth Branagh was masking the film’s middling scale with a thunderous score and ceaselessly kinetic cinematography in order to compensate for working with lackluster material. However, given that the “Jack Ryan” series is consistently entertaining, it’s far more accurate to instead praise Branagh for his ability to do so much with so little. The film nestles comfortably between bombastic and boring, effortlessly achieving its own modest expectations as simply a fun thriller.

Despite showing no more range than he did in the new Star Trek films, Pine makes for a fine lead and continues to prove himself a likable action star. Knightley is perfectly acceptable in her role, and fortunately her character is given more to do than the usual worried love interest or damsel in distress. Costner’s character is uninteresting, and Costner, himself, gives a performance to match. Branagh is easily the acting highlight of the film as a delightfully stereotypical Russian foe whose utter campiness keeps things playful, even in the midst of Jack Ryan’s most serious moments.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a colorful and unchallenging excursion, laced with flashes of clever scripting and some tense, “Mission: Impossible”-esque sequences, all bursting at an unrelentingly lively pace.

Jack Ryan deserves no second thought, nor does it ask for one. That is what makes it so efficient and enjoyable — the beautiful synchronization between intention and result. It is limited material stretched to its limits: a perfect exercise in the just OK. 

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