Welcome to the what frequent moviegoers know as the "January doldrums." Having sprayed movies at the audience like a fire hose over the previous two months, Hollywood uses the first weeks of the year as a graveyard to bury flicks that just didn't work out. Case in point is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an A-list effort at rebooting the cragy old Tom Clancy franchise that peaked with 1992's Patriot Games. On board are Kenneth Branagh doing double duty as director and actor (he plays the movie's Russian baddie), and Chris Pine (Star Trek's Captain Kirk) taking his shot at fronting a second revived franchise. Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley co-star, and it seems like a solid package. It isn't.
The Jack Ryan of Shadow Recruit bears no resemble to the character created by Tom Clancy and famously played by Alec Baldwin (in The Hunt For Red October, my favorite), Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear & Present Danger) and Ben Affleck (the kinda terrible The Sum of All Fears). That guy was a desk jockey thrown into the field, an everyman placed on the front lines of international intrigue. That was the appeal. This Ryan is an ex-Marine who has clearly graduated from the Jason Bourne School for Action Heroes. Sure, he'll drown a hit man in a hotel bathtub, but he'll feel guilty about it afterward.
The opening of Shadow Recruit introduces Ryan as the chopper he's on is shot down during a mission in Afghanistan. He is sent to rehab at Walter Reed in D.C., where he attempts to charm a pretty nurse (Knightly) while also trying to regain the use of his legs. It's also here that he's recruited by Costner's character into a CIA unit defined as "the one that makes sure we don't get hit again." He gets a cush Wall Street gig and looks out for suspicious financial activity that may presage a 9/11-style terrorist attack. Which, of course, he finds coming from a russian company controlled by Branagh's character. Can Ryan and Costner (with some help from Knightley) stop Branagh's evil plot from succeeding? Cue the organ music …
I found Shadow Recruit oddly boring throughout, with the movie hitting by-the-numbers plot points leading to a big climax that just isn't all that exciting. Part Mission: Impossible, part Bourne, Shadow Recruit reeks of a been-there done-that familiarity that is crippling to so many action movies these days. It doesn't help the the dialog (especially Costner and Knightley's) is often clunky or laughable, and the film takes itself far too seriously to ever be any fun.
I walked away from Shadow Recruit feeling ambivalent to Chris Pine as a leading man. He's likable, but maybe a tad too cookie-cutter to really cut it as big action star. As for the character of Jack Ryan, I think he needs to be left back in the Cold War 1980s where he belongs. This guy just isn't aging well.