Tom Cruise kicks butt and drives real fast, but is he ‘Jack Reacher’?

One of things I was sorry to have missed at CinemaCon this spring was the Paramount presentation for “Jack Reacher,” if only because I wanted to see for myself what’s being done with one of my favorite ongoing characters in current fiction.

After all, I’ve written several times already about my hesitations involving Tom Cruise playing the role of Jack Reacher.  First and foremost, he’s just plain physically wrong for the character as he exists in the books.  Reacher is an ape, a huge guy, well over six feet tall, and in almost every book that Lee Child has written about him, there’s at least one moment where Reacher’s size plays a part in the handling of a situation.  I spent at least a year stumping for Dwayne Johnson to play the part, and I think Joseph Manganiello would also have made a logical and interesting choice.

But let’s set aside questions of scale.  Can Tom Cruise step in and play the character anyway?  Based on the trailer that Paramount released today, I think that question no longer matters, because whatever the movie is… and it could end up being a lot of fun… it’s not the Jack Reacher that exists on the page.  Two minutes of footage proved conclusively that they’ve refigured the character so much that it’s just not the same thing anymore.  This is “Tom Cruise, moral crusader with a hot car,” and I have ever confidence the film will be entertaining.

Christopher McQuarrie is the writer-director, and I look forward to seeing him do a tough-guy mainstream romp.  My biggest fear about hiring Tom Cruise for the part was that his movie star gravity would pull the material out of shape, and there are some choices here that run directly counter to the way Reacher was created.  In the books, he took his discharge from military service and hit the road.  He travels by bus or by hitchhiking, and he has no plan, no end game in mind, and carries only the clothes on his back.  When you see Cruise dressed like a million bucks here and driving a muscle car, it’s obvious that they’ve made Reacher “cool” for the movie, and so this will be a Reacher movie in name only.

Sure, he’s still a white knight who will wade into any fight simply to make sure the right thing is done, and he’s still an ex-investigator, and so I’m guessing the film will follow the same general shape as the book.  I just wish they didn’t feel the need to bend the character’s defined nature so much just to get a movie star attached.  I shouldn’t be surprised, though.  If you want to fully understand how a character as sharply written as Reacher can be changed so much on his way to the screen, just read William Goldman’s “Adventures In The Screen Trade.”  Everything he wrote there about working with movie stars is still completely true today.

“Jack Reacher” will drive his big red muscle car into theaters December 21, 2012.