Quick take movie reviews: Jack Reacher and Gangster Squad

Had the exact same film Jack Reacher not been based on a huge-selling series of books, starred an A-lister, and been heavily advertised, it would be a jewel, something to tell your fellow crime aficionados about after it’s forgotten, something akin to The Outfit (although it’s not as good as that one), or any number of B-movie crime gems that aren’t masterpieces but are a lot of fun years later.

But those three things I listed did happen, so expectations are different. The engendered expectations do not make Jack Reacher (based on One Shot, which I have not read) less worth watching, although the faithful will have their share of disappointments.

Should they? Sure, Tom Cruise isn’t as tall as Reacher any more than Parker has a brother in The Outfit (the book), but Cruise does bring the charisma and the acting chops. (If your knee-jerk is, “I hate Tom Cruise,” I offer Magnolia (one of my all-time favorite movies), Rock of Ages (which is a hot mess but he’s brilliant in it), and even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol as my counterpoint. Also, Rain Man.)

If we’ve learned anything as Parker fans, it’s to keep the expectations of a movie adaptation of a book or series of books low. It helps that I enjoy the Reacher series but I’m not married to it. Jack Reacher, the movie, is a great time-waster, even if it has some stark differences from Jack Reacher, the books. It’s still in theaters, and I can’t honestly say jump on it at the cinema if your budget is low or your time is tight, but as a three-buck rental or a Netflix stream? Good popcorn flick.

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As I often do with reviews, I’ll get the negative out of the way with Gangster Squad on my way to being largely positive. There is evidence of a significant rewrite of the third act, a speculation I’d love to write more about but would involve major spoilers (also, thoughtful, in-depth writing). Maybe I’ll delve into that a few weeks after it comes out on video.

But the movie is filmed and staged beautifully, the acting ranges from solid to great (except for Sean Penn chewing the scenery like one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls on one of Michael Vick’s other pit bulls in the first half), and the pacing is superb in that pulp-fiction boom-boom-boom kind of way that we all love.

Flaws? It’s got ’em. A few clunky lines of dialog, no one shoots a full automatic that way in a situation where ammo is at a premium, it’s not possible that no one other than Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and a couple of extras smoked cigarettes in 1948 LA, and the I-damn-near-guarantee-it-happened rewrite I can’t tell you too much about so as not bring spoilers. Also, without doing actual research into the history of Mickey Cohen, I’m reasonably confident that the film isn’t entirely historically accurate.

But is it a good time at the movies? Hell, yeah, it is, and all can be forgiven for that. It’s a blast. Grab your popcorn and enjoy, at the theater if it’s convenient. Pulpy, pretty, violent, and fun.