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He has no driver's license, so he's happy to take the bus. No credit cards, either, so he deals only in cash. He travels without a suitcase, which means he washes his clothes in hotel rooms.

He has almost nothing, in fact, but a name and a past as a war hero and former MP mustered out.

"How many," he rhetorically asks a beautiful lawyer (played by Rosamund Pike), "would live their lives like me?"

Plenty.

In the movies, that is, which is why Tom Cruise hereby begins Lee Child's Jack Reacher series (now 17 books in) on screens, with an adaptation of Child's "One Shot."

Small problem.

Cruise isn't small, but he's smallish 5 feet 7 inches or 5 feet 8 inches (I'm 5 feet 6 inches, and I've been in interview rooms with him twice and stood next to him; I'm guessing he's two inches taller). In Child's novels, Jack Reacher is a 6-foot-5-inch muscular behemoth. In Cruise's movie, he's the movie version of Tom Cruise a well-muscled, 50-year-old man who drives muscle cars like a NASCAR champ and dispatches five marauding street thugs with his bare hands in less time than it takes local TV weathermen to tell you if snow is on the way.

For those who care, the Internet has been ablaze with admirers of Child's Jack Reacher books who are appalled that Reacher is being played in the first of what threatens to be a movie series by a star whom snark-world is happy to treat as a midget.

He's nothing of the sort, of course merely a wildly oversensitive and hugely successful movie star with all sorts of controversial things sticking out of his dossier and seemingly pleading for the contempt of people who themselves are more contemptible than he'll ever be.

Bringing "Jack Reacher" to the screen it's listed up front as a "Tom Cruise Picture" with cool, ultra-smart writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (an Oscar winner for writing "The Usual Suspects") was a very canny career move in a movie life that's been full of them.

Frankly, I could care less whether Child's hero in the novels is the size of King Kong and can bench press Cleveland. Being a tenured movie star covers a lot of ground in the world of instant mythology, and this is, frankly, one of Cruise's more creditable forays into action movies.

His curse and he's always been aware of it himself is his eternal boyishness. This is Cruise doing a Steve McQueen role, without the twinkly, streetwise sense of humor, of course, but terse, laconic and enigmatic a la good old McQueen (height: 5 feet 9 1/2 inches). With so few lines to say and so few opportunities to emote, Cruise's boyishness is nicely minimalized, leaving the movies with a new action thug "good guy" whose virtue is strictly relative compared with the monsters and dummkopfs he's trying to stop cold.

In one very funny scene, Jack is thwacked in the back of the head by a baseball bat. He tumbles into the tub in a filthy bathroom and seems about to be beaten into dog kibble except that his two assailants keep getting their elbows, baseball bats and iron crowbars into each other's way in their hurry to finish him off. So while they're turning into the Two Stooges, Jack wakes up and finishes them off by bashing the back of one idiot's head into the face of the other.

McQuarrie is a fellow apparently on Cruise retainer (he wrote "Valkyrie" and one of Cruise's "Mission: Impossible" babies.)
The movie abounds with good lines and the fine little touches that distinguish rough-and-tough genre films: Robert Duvall, as a shooting range proprietor sticking bullets into his ears to muffle the noise, for instance. A nice, larger trick is the great film director Werner Herzog taking the role of the villain-in-chief with a milky blue left eye and missing fingers that he supposedly chewed off while imprisoned in Russia.

McQuarrie knows his business. The film is about a sniper incident that kills five and that seems to have been perpetrated by one guy until Jack gets on the case. That opening incident is filmed in almost direct tribute to the masterful opening of Don Siegel's "Dirty Harry." The deliberately old-fashioned pseudo-1970s thriller music by Joe Kraemer (who is from Buffalo) reinforces that very smartly, as, indeed, it does all through the movie.

The movie is absurdly complicated at times and, in its basic explanation, familiar to readers of mystery novels and audiences for forensic TV.

But the action is good enough, as is the cast (Pike and the great Richard Jenkins, along with Herzog). Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's vision of Pittsburgh in the movie is completely fresh and terrific (Deschanel, you remember, gave Buffalo its golden glow in "The Natural").

I don't know that I'd want to jump on any couches about "Jack Reacher," but it's one of the best ways in a long while that one of our more weirdly durable movie stars has concocted to remain durable. If this is the beginning of a Cruise franchise, let's see more.

email: jsimon@buffnews.com

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JACK REACHER

Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)

Starring: Tom Cruise,?Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog, Richard Jenkins

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Running time: 130 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for violence, some drug material and language.

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