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Reacher Is Pulpy Airport-Thriller Fun Starring the World’s Beefiest Boy: Review

The Lee Childs character finally gets the big & tall pulp adaptation he deserves

Reacher Review Amazon
Reacher (Prime Video)
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    The Pitch: Stepping off a Greyhound bus just outside the sleepy town of Margrave, Georgia, hulking, nomadic ex-Marine Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson) finds himself arrested by the local police, suspected of a brutal murder the night before.

    He quickly makes a strong case for his innocence, but finds himself embroiled with the local PD — including fussy big-city detective Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) and tough-as-nails deputy Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald) — who clock his expertise and knack for getting himself into (and out of) trouble.

    Together, the three attempt to piece together who really killed that man, unraveling a deeper conspiracy that runs them afoul of everyone from white nationalists to Venezuelan cartel enforcers. But not to worry: Reacher’s got it under control. Just look at him!

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    The Killing Floor: This isn’t the first time the character of Jack Reacher (a creation of novelist Lee Child, who’s written twenty-seven books about the guy) has been adapted to the screen. Just look back a few years, and you’ll see two serviceable-to-good action thrillers starring Tom Cruise in the role.

    But while Cruise got the wily, calculating nature of Reacher right, there was just one problem: the chief appeal of Reacher as a character isn’t just his superb fighting skills or his Sherlock Holmes-style situational awareness, but the fact that he’s also a big ol’ hungus chungus.

    For Prime Video’s latest series, Reacher, Scorpion creator Nick Santora goes back to the drawing board and redraws the character in all his outsized dimensions, stretching out Child’s debut novel Killing Floor into an eight-episode reintroduction of the character. And what a bow it is, a fist-flying action-adventure series that keeps its towering titular character center stage.

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    Reacher (Amazon Prime Video)

    Reacher (Amazon Prime Video)

    Oh Lawd He Coming: If there’s one good reason to watch Reacher (and admittedly, there are several), it’s Ritchson, a journeyman actor who’s played his fair share of bulky superheroes (Smallville) and football jocks (Blue Mountain State) before finally landing the role of a lifetime here. It’d be tempting for a dude like Ritchson to lean on his physique, the attribute for which he was chiefly cast: He’s 6’2″ of all-American beef, and he looks like if you injected Tom Brady with that America serum.

    On the page, he’s the perfect avatar of a thriller writer’s self-insert power fantasy, a giant-killing machine who served in the military as both soldier and investigator, who basically saunters through every interaction with the knowledge that he can outfight and outsmart anyone he comes in contact with. That bears out in the series, too, as each episode throws him into one situation after another where he has to bash in many heads, and usually does it without breaking a sweat.

    But refreshingly, gratefully, Ritchson is also an incredibly smart actor, balancing Reacher’s cartoon-character bravado with surprising pathos and no small amount of bone-dry humor. He’s not unlike Clint Eastwood in that way, holding a kind of tough-guy poise that would make The Man With No Name proud. (It doesn’t hurt that he looks like if Clint’s son Scott fell into a vat of HGH.)

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    Making New Friends: But for as closed-off as he is around virtually everyone, Ritchson knows just when to show the cracks in his armor, especially as the investigation helps him grow closer to Finlay and Roscoe. Those grace notes come into sharp relief thanks to his immediate co-stars, who build their characters slowly but surely from stock thriller archetypes to three-dimensional characters of their own.

    Goodwin has an electric buddy-cop dynamic with Ritchson, as the junk-food-loving drifter bounces beautifully off Finlay’s tweed-three-piece-suit-wearing, vegetarian detective. They’re both outsiders to Margrave, but of different stripes: one a Black urban intellectual who Reacher jokingly calls “Black Sherlock Holmes,” the other a man who belongs nowhere but gets involved when there’s justice to be done and bad guys to blow away.

    For her part, Fitzgerald gets to hold her own in plenty of sticky situations as the determined Roscoe, even though she too often finds herself in the reductive position of Reacher’s love interest. That’s not helped by the late-season arrival of Reacher’s old army buddy Neagley (Maria Sten), who’s just as tough as Reacher but only appears sporadically to add more muscle to the action scenes.

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    Reacher (Amazon Prime Video)

    Reacher (Amazon Prime Video)

    Reaching for Straws: It’s a good thing that Reacher’s arms are thicker than tree trunks, too, because he’s got a whole lot of show to carry squarely on his shoulders. The actual plot itself, a labyrinthine scheme involving counterfeit money, international subterfuge, and a mild-mannered banker (Mark Bendavid) who confesses to the murder a little too quickly, is pretty predictable action-thriller fare.

    There are few twists that can’t be spotted from a mile away, and the villains are pretty easy to spot once you realize that the entire supporting cast is made up of Vancouver’s finest character actors. It’s classic “man vs. the system” stuff, right down to the sniveling millionaire tycoon and a whole crop of cops on the make.

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    The show’s actual presentation is pretty neat, though it has a shot-in-Vancouver feel that can make it seem more than a little cheap. That said, the action is clear and propulsive, finding a fine balance between Greengrass-level shakycam and evocative tableaus. Happily, they also make unique use of Ritchson’s physical presence, giving Reacher a whole lot of opportunities to just slam his ham-hock fist into lesser mortals and watch them turn to mist.

    It’s not the most cerebral show on the planet, but boy does it get the job done.

    The Verdict: Reacher is dumb, breezy, pulpy, and it knows it. That’s the real secret to Santora’s sauce: He understands the violent disposability of airport thrillers like the kind Child writes, leaning into every arch plot point and Southern-fried villain with schlocky aplomb. But none of it works without Ritchson, who was practically born for this role: it’s basically impossible to look away from him, and I can’t wait to see what future seasons have in store for our bestest, biggest boy.

    Where’s It Playing? Reacher stomps its way onto Amazon Prime Video on February 4th.

    Trailer:

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