Chris Pine stars as CIA agent Jack Ryan sent to Russia to investigate a plot against America in the action prequel based on Tom Clancy's character. (Paramount Pictures)
Who is Jack Ryan?
With “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” this character, drawn from the late Tom Clancy’s novels, has now been played by four actors since 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October.” Alec Baldwin played him in “Hunt,” next came Harrison Ford in “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger” in the mid-’90s, then Ben Affleck took a shot in 2002’s “The Sum of All Fears.”
Now, after a decade, Ryan returns, younger than ever, with Chris Pine in the role. “Shadow Recruit” is basically an origins movie, and yet we still learn very little about the character at the center of all these films.
He’s mostly a gung-ho, all-American spy guy who gets into situations where he has to save the world from massive calamities. Yet you get the feeling that if you waved a hand in front of his eyes he wouldn’t blink. It’s hard to find anybody in there.
This can hardly be blamed on Pine, who has filled the personality of Captain Kirk to near bursting in the current “Star Trek” reboot. When Pine gets to actually do something — like fight for his unlikely survival early on in this film — he’s effective enough. But too much of the time Ryan is simply passing through some watered-down Bond-Mission:Impossible-Bourne hoops where he’s nothing more than the sum of his situation.
We begin with Ryan seeing the Sept. 11 attacks on a TV screen while studying something or other in England. Then he’s an officer in Afghanistan, flying in a helicopter that promptly gets blown out of the sky, which lands him, partially paralyzed, in a Washington hospital where a slumming Kiera Knightley plays the doctor who must teach him to walk again.
With Knightley as an eventual prize, he does indeed walk and even run again (wouldn’t you?). And around then a CIA guy named Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner, nice and cool) shows up. He’s noticed Ryan is brave and brilliant, how would he like to be a spy?
So Ryan is set up with a Wall Street firm where he secretly hunts for nefarious international doings while shacked up with the aforementioned doctor. One day, he stumbles on a problem with some Russian accounts and suddenly finds himself activated as an agent and sent overseas to investigate.
What he discovers is a Russian bad guy (Kenneth Branagh, also directing) on the verge of both a financial and terrorist attack on the United States (as if we’re not capable of engineering our own financial disasters). And thus begin all the Bond-Mission:Impossible-Bourne hijinks, including time-ticking sticky situations, assorted car chases, fisticuffs and — good news, locals! — a terrorist plot hatched in Dearborn.
Detroit pride indeed.
Branagh runs through all of this efficiently enough, but it feels awfully familiar.
And Ryan — well, Jack, we still hardly know you.
'Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit'
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and intense action, and brief strong language
Running time: 105 minutes