Friday, September 12, 2014

"Would anyone else care for some more tea?"

My youngest son got an Xbox soccer game for his birthday.  I’ve always sort thought that sports titles for video game systems are silly (except for racing which I can’t afford in real life and golf which I’m terrible at in real life).  This is a moderately strong prejudice I’ve held onto despite purchasing a couple of versions of Madden and playing an NBA game every winter.  This FIFA game has forced me to reexamine that view.  It was fun.  And the graphics are really good.  Players trip, do flips, head shots, dives and slides.  I was beaten soundly but enjoyed every minute of it.
"The problem, Vasili, is the Americans."

I’ve enjoyed espionage films my entire life.  I even sat through two terrible films with Adian Quinn (he wasn’t the problem) because they were ‘spy thrillers’ and therefore worthy of my time.  When Bruce Willis starred in the horrible reinterpretation of Day of the Jackal (a book I’ve read far too many times to print the number here) I was disappointed.  What followed was, with only a few notable exceptions, a period of time when there were a lot of espionage movies made without much meat on their bones.

I watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit last weekend and it forced me to reconsider my view of the genre.  It’s just not entertainment any more.  I blame the end of the cold war.  Nobody really cares about corporate espionage or economic collapse and so the complicated plots with paper thin characters don’t satisfy the way a Snickers can.   Looking back, Daniel Craig’s Bond and the first two Bourne movies are the only high budget flicks in the genre that have been good.  We’ve enjoyed a few of the “lesser” films but that’s because they were about the characters with espionage in the background.  All you thriller writers need to remember that.  I need to remember that.

Let’s talk about Shadow Recruit.  The first problem is that everyone keeps calling it Jack Reacher.  Clearly Ryan isn’t a very memorable character.  Add to that the need for me to explain to nearly everyone I’ve talked about the movie that this is the same Jack Ryan that Harrison Ford played in Clear and Present Danger.  This portrayal was so forgettable that I don’t even remember the actor who played Jack and it’s been less than a week.  The movie was confusing, predictable, and only had two scenes that made me say, “I need to capture that in my thriller.”  The first was a conversation Jack has with his very impersonal control operator during a moment that’s stressful for him and long for us.  The second was Kevin Costner walking his dog.

Indeed, if Kevin Costner hadn’t brought his Bodyguard persona to this film it would have finished behind Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 2 or 3.  Let’s contrast that with the first film appearance of Jack Ryan – The Hunt for Red October.  Very good film with a simple plot that twisted and turned and entire ensemble of characters that were clearly drawn and compelling.  Alec Baldwin’s Jack Ryan was the best of the lot.  CIA analysts are not Indiana Jones.  Ben Affleck was fine, but the Sum of All Fears was too complicated.  I really liked CaPD but Patriot Games was not a good fit for Harrison Ford.

Which leads to my concluding thought that the reason JR:SR was made had more to do with the death of Tom Clancy than the submission of an outstanding script.  It felt rushed.  Like draft 7 instead of 70.  It watched like most of the books read – confusing and long.  I actually read “Atlas Shrugged” in less time than “The Sum of All Fears” and I never actually finished most of his other books.  I just didn’t care that much about the technical side of things.

Is it a movie worth watching?  Meh.  Maybe for the younger generation who are looking for a break from super heroes.  Not for me.  I’ll re-watch an episode of Chuck before taking on another Clancy based film.

I mean, I can’t even remember what Jack was trying to steal from the Russians last Saturday night but can quote whole sections of THFRO.  It’s okay if you disagree, after all, Marko Ramius laughed at Jack Ryan and said, “I know this book.  Your conclusions were all wrong.”

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