Movie: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit; Director: Kenneth Branagh; Studio: Paramount Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My findings: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.
The first installment in the Jack Ryan movie franchise since author Tom Clancy died in October is also the first not to be based upon any of his Jack Ryan novels. Instead, this serves as either a reboot or a prequel to the series, and takes place at Ryan's humble beginnings - but in the here and now.
The Ryan franchise has its roots in the Cold War and was first turned into a film with 1990's "The Hunt for Red October," with Alec Baldwin portraying Ryan.
With this reboot, taking place today, Ryan is again thrown into a plot with Russia and the United States at either end, but this time the Russians hope to sink the American economy through a rather ingenious currency inflation scheme while simultaneously launching an attack.
At the beginning, however, Ryan doesn't know anything about that. He's a grad student pursuing his PhD at the London School of Economics when the World Trade Centers fall in New York City and he drops out early to join the armed forces in the fight to save America.
Noble intentions and strong will, however, put him at major risk on the frontlines where his helicopter is shot down and, upon delivery at the field hospital, he has a 90-minute window for special spinal surgery to give him even a chance at walking again.
And that's how he meets his future wife, Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), a third-year medical student trying to earn some final physical therapy credits by forcing him to put forth the effort in his rehabilitation.
And that's also where he meets Commander Harper (Kevin Costner).
It turns out an economist with Marine training draws the attention of CIA recruiters who think that, if Ryan fully gains his mobility back, he could be just the guy for a special operations division tracking economic threats against the country.
Chris Pine, who has played Capt. Kirk in the recent Star Trek reboots, makes for a good Jack Ryan, even if the movie begins to falter midway through. He's got an unease with the role he is recruited to that fits someone formerly entering academia only to be thrown into international intrigue.
He's posted undercover as a Wall Street analyst at a major firm, where he can track the ups and downs of the markets and currency exchanges, which is when he notices the hidden accounts at a Russian partner company owned by Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh, who also directs).
While seemingly complex on paper, the plot flows well and understandably on film. The problem, however, may very well be Branagh's directing.
Formerly beloved by critics for his Shakespearean turns as both actor and director, Sir Branagh's star has slowly lost some of its luster. He's turned large scale, away from the theatrical side of cinema, most notably as director of 2011's "Thor," which at least gave him mythology to toy around with and make grand.
Here, though, the film plays out almost like a video game - and somewhat distractingly so. For one part, the film itself is gorgeous in its slickness. But some of that slickness feels overwhelming when the glossy technology seems overstated, like when Costner is sniping some enemies and we get a view through his digital scope.
And perhaps the sheen of the production took top billing and made some of the moments that were supposed to be heart-pounding, tense scenes fall flat. Also, the love story between Ryan and Cathy seems a little forced, and distracts from the thriller aspect, apart from one notable scene between Cathy and Cherevin where a certain vulnerability is displayed in the Russian's mad plans.
All in all, the film was an enjoyable distraction through its running time but nothing really sticks as particularly memorable. I wouldn't mind seeing more Jack Ryan in the future, but pulling stories from Clancy's large treasure trove may make a better film than going at it alone.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)