The worst crime that “Shadow Recruit” is guilty of is that it’s mediocre. At no point was I worried for the characters because, I just didn’t care. We know Ryan fights another day, so why fear for his life? The studios can’t quite seem to decide if they want to turn Jack Ryan in to Jason Bourne, or just a geek chic techie, so in “Shadow Recruit” he’s both. One minute he’s zooming through New York in a motorcycle trying to chase down a fake police car intent on blowing up Wall Street, and the next he can barely finish a covert operation without the help of Kevin Costner’s guardian Thomas watching and re-assuring him from afar. At this point, it’s about time to really give up on the Jack Ryan character.
Through no fault of Chris Pine’s, Ryan just comes off kind of like a geeky schmuck thrust in to an impossible situation he can sometimes handle, and sometimes can’t. He narrowly dodges assassination by wrestling with and drowning a large African man, and when he has to meet with Costner’s character, he can barely remember protocol for his mission. I wish the writers would decide on whether they want to turn Ryan in to an average Joe superhero, or an ass kicking secret agent. In a better movie with much better writers and a clearer idea of the tone, Chris Pine would have been the perfect man to help relaunch the Jack Ryan Series. He has the square jawed military aesthetic that make Ryan look like the great underdog hero, but Pine’s depiction of the character pulled in every direction.
And as good an actor as Pine is, he just lacks the stoicism and urgency of Harrison Ford. Despite the politically relevant plot involving post 9/11 paranoia, and a terrorism plot involving the recession of 2008, “Shadow Recruit” lacks real tension, and suspense, and never seems anxious to keep our characters on the verge of death. Ryan is an interesting hero when the script allows it, he just never seems to be in enough of a harrowing situation to keep us rooting for him. And the hopelessly convoluted plot of Russians to plan a recession, and a terrorist bombing initiating a new great depression of America is much too confusing and pointless to really warrant any interesting twists or turns. There’s also a real lack of a menacing villain, as even the bad guys have some tragic bent to them. No matter how thick his Russian accent is, Kenneth Branagh’s villainous banker is dull, and he looks bored through most of his screen time.
Meanwhile, much of the espionage and reconnaissance is bogged down by a painfully obnoxious sub-plot involving Ryan’s romance with his girlfriend Cathy. Granted, Keira Knightley is a charming actress, but the film’s over reliance on their passion, romance, and tension mars what should have been a tense action thriller. It also doesn’t help that the writers crib from “True Lies” with Cathy’s investigation of Jack’s secret profession, resulting in her getting in on a top secret operation. That said, in moments, “Shadow Recruit” is a fun film with Pine really lending a new angle to the Jack Ryan hero. Kevin Costner for all of his limited screen time is a great side character that I’d love to see a spin off from, and Branagh’s direction is dynamic and sleek. All things considered, Pine deserves another shot at a stronger more daring Jack Ryan film, as “Shadow Recruit” is only an average affair for Clancy fans.