In these movie star vehicles, why is the main character always named Jack?

 Last night I was on my own visiting Disneyland, and sometimes when it’s pretty crowded I‘ll kill some time by going to the AMC Theater in Downtown Disney.  So I went to check out Jack Reacher.

In a nutshell: it’s a stock formula Crime movie where everything gravitates around Tom Cruise‘s ego.  You see movies like these all the time of course, which are standard vehicles for promoting a stars image.  But the one thing that’s fascinated me about these kinds of movies is how it takes some terrific actors, like Richard Jenkins, Robert Duvall, and Werner Herzog, and forces them to lower their standards of acting to play stock one dimensional characters.  And play them in a way that lets the audience know they’re acting.  Tom Cruise of course plays Tom Cruise.  But it’s one of those films where all the other actors in the movie are playing down their roles so as not to outdo Cruise or give any indication that they’re better actors than he is!  You won’t find this just in the acting, but in the writing as well, where Cruise is given purposely constructed snappy dialogue, always having the last word, and anyone who thinks they can challenge him gets their ass kicked.  Every thing is highlighted:  This is the drama moment.  The goofy slapstick moment.  The humorous yuck yuck moment.  Robert Duvall is probably the only actor in the film, because of his age and experience, who is allowed to act a little better than Cruise.  At least out of respect to the old man‘s legacy, or it may have been too obvious why none of the other great actors in the film were allowed to shine.

In a funny way the movie Jack Reacher reminded me alot of Patriot Games.  I bought that movie for like $1 in the bargain bin because I had heard growing up that it was a good movie.  But it plays up the same Hollywood formula star vehicle as Jack Reacher, only this one was for Harrison Ford.  Everything in the movie was telegraphed, sending a clear signal to the audience about how they were supposed to react.  It’s all broken down and categorized into specific moments.  Jack Reacher was probably an easy win for Tom Cruise from the get go, and no surprise, it was produced and funded by Cruise as a vehicle for himself.  

What I’m getting at though is how easy it is to artificially create scenarios in movies.  The story is driven on the account of being “clever”.  You won’t find a deeper emotional connection to the characters, but based on the clever snappy dialogue, you’re made to think the characters have substance, when in fact is all on the surface, catering to Tom Cruise’s image.  I have to say, there was one scene in the film that amused for the sake of it’s banality.  There have been those big rumors that Tom Cruise is gay for awhile, including the hilarious South Park Scientology episode, where everyone just wants Tom to come out of the closet.  We’ll there’s a scene in Jack Reacher, where Cruise goes into a Tire Store in search of a girl working there he’s been looking for.  When he’s confronted by the manager, the actor playing the manager plays him as an obvious stock gay stereotype.  The manager is taller and beefier than Cruise, but he winds up being a pushover, and Cruise being the “badass he is talks down the manager, pushes him aside and goes into the backroom.  When Cruise talks to the girl, he makes a joke about the two cars parked next to each other in the parking lot of the Tire Store, a Camaro, and a giant F450 truck, and that the giant truck “obviously owned by the manager”, indicating the manager has an ego compensating for something.  I don’t think it takes much to read into what that scene is trying to say.  It’s just ironic that to make his point about himself he had to reduce the writing of Hollywood films back to gay stereotyping.  

But again, its one of those films that’s praised for it’s intellectual prowess and not on the idea that you’re watching people act in a believable way.  The writing may have some intelligence behind it for sure, but what interests me more are emotionally compelling characters.   It seems like more and more movies are giving audiences less of a reason to invest emotionally into the characters, especially when you have movies like Jack Reacher that are all about pampering a movie stars ego.  If Cruise really wants to show people how badass and courageous he is, lets see him sign on to an Alan Ball script and watch if it makes him break down and cry. 


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