The Jack Ryan of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit works for the CIA - on Wall Street. He's undercover at a big firm, parsing algorithms, on the hunt for suspicious electronic transfers that might point to a terrorist operation hatching another 9/11-like disaster.
And he's a movie buff. Ryan (Chris Pine) takes his secret meetings at a New York City art house where a revival of Barbara Stanwyck's Sorry, Wrong Number flickers crisply on-screen. The ticket stub, which falls out of his pants pocket back at the apartment he shares with the beautiful physician Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), proves to be one of the bigger problems in Ryan's life. He claims he hasn't seen the film, and ipso facto, she thinks he's having an affair.
If only he could tell her what he really does for a living!
A re-reboot of the Tom Clancy espionage series, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit finds Pine - Kirk in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot - in the role previously assayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Unlike the previous four films (Ford played Ryan twice), this one isn't based on a Clancy book, although Ryan's backstory (he's from Baltimore, served in the Marines, survived a helicopter crash) is woven into the generic and increasingly flimsy spy thriller plot.
It's a plot that takes Ryan to Moscow, where Kenneth Branagh is holed up in an opulent skyscraper, giving the boot to his underlings (literally) and speaking in a Russian accent as thick as a bowl of borscht. He is Viktor Cherevin, a mad businessman with a plot to bring America to its knees (a cataclysmic attack, economic collapse). Branagh is also Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit's director, and he does a better job of bringing a Hollywood action franchise to Red Square than, say, John Moore did with A Good Day to Die Hard.
Which isn't saying much.
Pine, blue-eyed and furrow-browed, does his best with an essentially humorless script. He brings a bit of Robert Redford's Three Days of the Condor "I'm-just-an-analyst" operational naivete to bear, arriving in Moscow and almost immediately becoming the target of assassins. Kevin Costner is his CIA father figure, a veteran tradecrafter who has had his eyes on Ryan for some time ("impressive work," he says of Ryan's doctoral study). And Knightley, almost pulling off an American accent, is the physical-therapist-turned-medico who shows up unannounced in Moscow - looking for romance, or for her boyfriend's lover, she isn't sure which.
Of course, she's recruited, too: to distract Viktor with flirty chatter about Russian literary masters while Jack goes snooping through Viktor's computer back at the office.
Too much of the action in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit takes place on laptops, thumb drives, and video monitors. And when the hostage-taking and time bomb ticking and car chases finally kick into gear, well, "cellphone triangulation!" is about the best line Jack can come up with.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. With Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, and Branagh. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters