Reacher Review: A Tall Order That Occasionally Falls ShortJasmine Blu at .
Amazon Prime struck something with the latest adaptation of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, but it's not necessarily gold.
More than anything, Reacher feels like a very intentional course-correction of the Tom Cruise-led Jack Reacher films and an eager and earnest nod at the book lovers.
Under any other circumstances, that should give the series an edge, and maybe it does for die-hard fans of the books, but it falls frustratingly short in other areas.
Reacher's highly-anticipated first season is a dense eight-episodes that preoccupies itself with staying close to the source material in some act of fan (and maybe author) appeasement and defiance against the previous film adaptation.
But in doing so, it not only boxes out everyone else and strips the series of its entertainment value, but by the end, one concludes that they may as well have simply stuck with the books in the first place.
Maybe there is a downside to not taking more creative liberties during an adaptation. If one of the film version's flaws was barely paying homage to the source, Reacher's is playing it way too close and straight.
In reality, it reduces the fandom experience to living for those notable moments -- a brutal fight scene or a kickass quip, while watching aimlessly during all the moments in between.
And while it was sensible to kickstart the first in presumably multiple seasons with the first book in the series, Killing Floor, as an introduction to the character, the investigation doesn't translate well onscreen.
Somehow, from the moment Reacher steps into town, wrongfully accused of a murder, the eight-episode season drags, partly because of multiple murder investigations and conspiracies in which one's attention wanes by the third installment.
It was easy to check out of the case and all the nuances and twists of it until the payoff by the final two hours.
For a series that is marketed as an action thriller, it gets bogged down by so much exposition that it's to the season's detriment. And the series shortchanges us on the thrills.
Oh, the action scenes are great when we get them. The series racks up a hell of a body count. Ritchson and the team's stuntwork during fight sequences not only impress, but they typically have you wincing and cringing while watching.
The teased prison fight is one of the season's highlights. His background as a special ops military veteran is believable. And Reacher's particular brand of brute strength he exhibits against a baddie late into the season left me wide-eyed and gasping and still has me a bit shell-shocked.
But as much as the season drops a ridiculous amount of bodies, it isn't nearly as much action as you'd expect. In the absence of a compelling investigation, those thrilling, kickass moments are far and few between here.
The first couple of installments meander as they attempt to lay the foundation and do some character building. Frankly, outside of the primary trio of Reacher, Finlay, and Roscoe, you lose track of the names along the way and don't suffer for it.
But overall, the characters feel like redundant archetypes, including Reacher.
As the lead, one understands what they were going for when searching for someone to fill the vigilante hero's massive shoes. The most significant criticism from the films was the questionable casting of a vertically challenged Tom Cruise to play a character who is so gigantic in size and presence that it makes your hair stand on end.
Jack Reacher is a mountain of a man clocking 6'5 and 250lbs, and they angled for that when they cast Titans star Alan Ritchson, who is 6'2 and bulked up for the role.
But presently, the actor's size and stature don't coincide with the level of attention and hoopla directed at the character for it. Is it weird to say that Reacher doesn't appear nearly as imposing as he should despite being tall and buff?
The series did make a conscious effort to get creative with this, which was great. They often surround Ritchson with shorter actors. The camera work that has them filming at unique angles, presumably lower, manages to make him appear significantly taller than he is.
It isn't sustainable, but it makes things closer to the source material, and they are visually interesting to experience and worthy of appreciation. Unfortunately, the role requires more than size to sell the character.
Say what you will about a Polly-Pocket-sized Tom Cruise, but he captured the menace, cool confidence, mystery, and charisma.
Regrettably, Ritchson, while a fine actor, doesn't manage that here. For one, he's almost too pretty. He still has that CW network look that makes his rendition of all the above seem like a smarmy, oversized frat boy or a juiced-up asshole jock.
And his Holmesian level of observational skills and profiling isn't always the most convincing. Perhaps if Ritchson diversified his facial expressions and tone and they took us on the journey of him assessing things via camera shots honing in on something that tips him off, that would've helped.
It takes at least two and a half installments for Ritchson to settle into the role, leveling out the initial hamminess, arrogance, and douchebaggery that makes Reacher downright unlikable and becoming the exasperating human equivalent of an unruly Mastiff who simply grows on you with time.
Once he settles into the role and figures out which way he wants to lean with it, Reacher himself becomes more enjoyable. His dynamics with some of the characters are, too.
If I'm candid, Ritchson and Willa Fitzgerald never find their rhythm. They have nothing that resembles passable sexual tension or romantic chemistry. We could've just as easier gone without any attempts at romantic overtures at all. More than anything, it feels like they were checking it off a list.
Fitzgerald's Roscoe often feels really one-dimensional overall, though she does have some good moments with Bruce McGill's Colonel Sanders-Esque Teale and Kristin Kreuk's Charlie.
Ritchson's blossoming oddball buddy-cop dynamic with Malcolm Goodwin's Finlay is another highlight as the season progresses.
Initially, Goodwin almost overplays his role as the persnickety Black Bostonian heading the small-redneck Georgian town of Margrave's police department. But the more time he and Ritchson spend with each other, the more entertaining they are as a duo.
Goodwin is no stranger to playing an amusing straight man from his time on iZombie. Later into the series, he unleashes it, crescendoing in such a delightfully hokey way that harkens to Danny Glover's stint in the Lethal Weapon franchise.
On another show, Reacher and Finlay's buddy-cop banter would have the potential to evolve into something more substantial and long-lasting.
But as a self-proclaimed drifter and "hobo," it's evident from the beginning that Reacher doesn't plant roots or stay anywhere for long, and it's not in Finlay's nature to be that type of companion.
And that's where Maria Sten's Neagley comes into play. One of the few times the series strays away from its source material is incorporating fan-favorite Neagley into this first season, and it was one of the wisest moves.
She's the most grounding character someone like Reacher can have, which shows during their interactions despite her limited presence in the season.
Neagley proves to be more than an asset as she's more akin to the only friend a loner like Reacher has, and she matches him in intellect, skill, wit, and badassery.
As a touchstone, familiar figure, she also works as an effective way of bringing up or implying things about Reacher's past. Via that dynamic, it chips away at some of Reacher's mystery without all that heavy exposition or contrived flashbacks to his childhood which feel virtually meaningless despite their frequency.
Neagley is the most dynamic character of the bunch, dare I say even more than Reacher himself, and despite the critical nature of this review, I look forward to the series exploring Neagley more in the future.
And I am intrigued enough by the series to tune in for another season. Reacher is far from unwatchable, and it's a reasonably quick binge.
It's brimming with potential and can rise to it. If you're a fan of crime procedures, especially hardboiled ones, it's a perfectly suitable series that will hold your interest.
The implementation of humor throughout the season provides a few chuckles and some amusing moments. The fight and action sequences are riveting.
And the season definitely picks up in the middle and rolls into a satisfying conclusion.
As Ritchson gets more acclimated with the role he's playing, he's more engaging to watch, and that's promising for future seasons.
Reacher is a worthwhile stream, especially for fans of the genre and the series, and if you aren't someone who has read the books by now, it will inspire you to do so.
Hell, if you just like some good old-fashion ass-kicking and unapologetic killing by an honorable vigilante, then there's a suitable amount of both to satisfy you.
Reacher premieres on Amazon Prime Friday, February 4.
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Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You'll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on Twitter.