Three big-time Hollywood actors have already skulked across the screen as novelist Tom Clancy’s fictional spook Jack Ryan. Alec Baldwin introduced him in ‘The Hunt for Red October’ (1990); Harrison Ford made the guy growlier in ‘Patriot Games’ (1992) and ‘Clear and Present Danger’ (1994); and Ben Affleck assumed duties in ‘The Sum of All Fears’ (2002), a film so out of step with its moment, its lead was upstaged by a nuclear bomb.
Those are some boring movies. So we should rejoice that Chris Pine, Captain Kirk in the ‘Star Trek’ reboot (and less wooden than his name suggests), is our new Ryan. Pine is never going to pull off weight-of-the-world anxiety: his expression in the first moments of ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit’, set on 9/11, might be called ‘aggrieved puppy’. But it isn’t hard to warm to his ex-economics student-turned- soldier, a banter-happy flirt who, in a matter of scenes, turns his nurse (Keira Knightley, doing her best with a thankless role and an American accent) into a longtime girlfriend. Then it’s present day, and some rogue Russians – remember them? – have fearsome plans for a combined attack and Wall Street market takeover.
The plot’s a bit complex for what amounts to a lot of running around – the movie can’t help but evoke the ‘Bourne’ series along with a high-gloss hint of ‘Skyfall’, not wholly unpleasantly. Frankly, the problem might be Clancy’s empty vessel himself, a character in desperate need of a gimmick, a hang-up, a vice. Old fox Kevin Costner plays Ryan’s CIA recruiter, while director Kenneth Branagh does double duty as a caricature baddie who loves fitted black suits. There’s no knock-out sequence, no killer line. But you won’t hate yourself for wasting your time.