Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

The unintentional laughs come early and often in the ersatz CIA thriller “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

Chris Pine – Captain Kirk of the rejuvenated “Star Trek” films – plays Ryan, a grad student at the London School of Economics who volunteers for combat duty in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 and, his legs badly hurt in a helicopter attack, is nursed back to health by the comely med student and taskmaster Cathy Muller (Winona – er, Keira Knightley), who offers a date with her as Ryan’s reward the day he’s able to run out of the hospital.

Well, he does, and ten years later, they’re married and living in New York. He’s a corporate compliance director on Wall Street and moonlights as an undercover CIA agent, relaying intel on suspicious international monetary moves to his recruiter, William Harper (Kevin Costner in a show-up-and-get-paid part). A massive string of time-release sell orders by Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin (the movie’s director, Kenneth Branagh, slumming) catches Ryan’s eye. Turns out Cherevin’s planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, after which his dump of the dollar will permanently devalue the American currency and plunge the world financial market into freefall. Russia will be fine, though, because – get this – they have oil reserves! 

The plot – as a whole and in all its particulars – is so ludicrous I laughed out loud throughout. In one chase scene, Jack and Cathy are ensconced in the presumed safety of a whitewashed agency truck, where Ryan and Harper look at photos of Cherevin’s possible target areas. Cathy suddenly stands up: “Wait, go back! Honey, that’s the building where you work!” Pine is way too lightweight for the role of Ryan (Costner gets the best line, a play on Pine’s puppy-dog avidity), and there’s really only one strong sequence, in which Jack sneaks away from dinner with Cathy and Viktor to break into Cherevin’s high-security office, steal his computer codes, and private-elevator his way back down, narrowly missing Viktor’s wary secretary, Katya (Elena Velikanova, bringing subtle menace to a small part). 

But the sequence – electric blue elevator tubes against the neon whites and reds of the nighttime Moscow sky – is a showpiece, and if you’re only going to have one, you do well to put it right in the middle. “Shadow Recruit” makes Moscow look beautiful in a way no movie has in recent memory, and Knightley always makes good eye candy, too. And I suppose there are worse ways to spend two hours than laughing, even if Branagh doesn’t mean for you to. Or, as we say in the movie wasteland of January, two stars.

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