Econ whiz turned CIA spy.
All ticking time bombs are not made equal. When an action flick's hero starts a warning with, "Once I start the audit," blacking out from boredom is a clear and present danger. That's the kind of countdown only an IRS agent could love. It's clear that Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit -- yet another vehicle for author Tom Clancy's cash cow of a character -- is made for a January audience starved for fresh entertainment.
Writers Adam Cozad and David Koepp plod through a lengthy opening, which reframes economics whiz Ryan (Chris Pine) as a post-9/11 Marine who's tapped to work as an undercover CIA analyst on Wall Street. Because this is not Jack Ryan: Compliance Officer, the film transports Ryan to Russia to investigate a hunch about an impending attack.
The first Jack Ryan picture not sourced from a Clancy novel, Shadow Recruit modernizes Ryan's biography without injecting anything original into the franchise. A high-stakes motorcycle chase, a control room of analysts barking as they plink away on their computers, an Energizer Bunny-like baddie who won't stay dead: We've seen it all before, done better, in the Bond and Bourne franchises.
Those films also understand how crucial it is to have quirky, quippy and magnetic tertiary characters. These give texture to action films and elevate the generic to the specific. Pine can do "likable everyman hero" in his sleep, but there are few Hollywood leading men with shoulders broad enough to carry two franchises. He's better used as the rakish Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Having arthouse doyenne Keira Knightley play the girlfriend part is like demoting the star quarterback to peewee football, but that's her choice. Director Kenneth Branagh casts himself as a Russian business magnate moonlighting in economic terrorism, but his performance is too controlled to maximize the character's zealotry.
Off camera, Branagh is trying to rebrand himself as a big-budget action director, but he fared better with the fun, faux-epic bombast of 2011's Thor. That film dovetailed with his previous work spoon-feeding Shakespeare to the masses. Shadow Recruit has no such ambitions, which makes it forgettable viewing.