Three big-time Hollywood actors have already skulked across the screen as fictional spook Jack Ryan, each one of them more or less a reflection of what it meant to be an A-list action star of gravitas. 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 did his amorphous thing 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, the goony Captain Kirk of the Star Trek reboot (and far less wooden than his name would suggest), is our new Ryan. Pine is never going to successfully pull off weight-of-the-world anxiety: His expression in Shadow Recruit’s first moments, set on 9/11, might be called “aggrieved puppy.” But it isn’t hard to warm to this 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. Now 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 Tom 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 (why not him?), while director Kenneth Branagh does double duty as a caricatural baddie who loves his fitted black suits. There’s no knockout sequence, no killer line. But you won’t hate yourself for wasting your time.
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Cast and crew