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“Reacher” is Familiar Crime Thriller That’s Better Than Expected [Review]

I’m not entirely convinced that there was a ground swell of support for a “Reacher” show. It’s hard to imagine everyone’s favorite airport terminal book series was demanded to be adapted by rabid Lee Child fans. Here we are though, with Amazon launching new Jack Reacher series this week. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to check this one out. I have never read the books, and only know the character through Tom Cruise’s interpretation in the 2011 “Jack Reacher” film. It wasn’t exactly memorable, but that didn’t make it any less jarring when Amazon cast behemoth Alan Ritchson to take up the mantle of the titular character. Luckily, “Reacher” ends up being better than expected, operating with an uninspiring familiarity of crime thriller procedurals but managing to be just interesting enough to make it worth watching.

Alan Ritchson as Jack Reacher, photo by Keri Anderson, Amazon Prime Video

It’s completely fine to do things by the book, and “Reacher” does nothing to break new ground in the genre. As long as your by the numbers presentation is compelling, it’s easy to forgive a familiar and predictable narrative. Luckily, “Reacher” makes the most of its cast and source material, and packages everything up in a nice bingeable box that is easily consumed. Maybe it’s just my brain being fried from my immersion in Sundance Festival winners, but the ability to dive into something purposefully surface level is refreshing.

But I would argue that “Reacher” is genuinely good television, and gives viewers all the brutality, intelligence, and even comedy one would want from a show like this.

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Reacher” is developed for television by Nick Santora, who has served as a writer/producer for shows such as “The Sopranos,” “Prison Break,” and “Lie To Me.” The new series is very much in line with a number of Santora’s previous work, operating on the same level of storytelling and pacing as any number of these similar shows. It is based on the book series by Lee Child, who also serves as an executive producer for the adaption.

It stars Alan Ritchson as Reacher, a decorated military policeman who now lives a minimalist life off the grid and travels from place to place as a hobo (his words, not mine). After briefly visiting the rural town of Margrave, Georgia, Reacher is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. Before he can fully clear his name and leave town, he becomes embroiled in a criminal conspiracy that requires his intelligence and brute strength to solve.

The big selling point here is Ritchson, a gargantuan man who manages to deliver more than just stature in his portrayal of Reacher. From the trailers, it was my biggest fear; that the series would be nothing more than a gigantic man punching his way through nameless faces of henchmen and feel more like a throwback to 90s action heroes than any kind of compelling television. “Reacher” manages to avoid these pitfalls, and chooses to highlight his incredible detective skills and high intelligence as his primary method of uncovering the search. Don’t get me wrong, Ritchson more than uses his huge stature and brute strength to violently manhandle plenty of paid townies who bite off more than they can chew. But it’s very smartly balanced by putting his attention to detail first, which allows him to be far more interesting than the marketing would have you believe.

Malcolm Goodwin as Oscar and Alan Ritchson as Jack Reacher, SHANE MAHOOD PHOTO PROVIDED BY AMAZON STUDIOS

Reacher” also embraces the flaws from its source material with open arms. It has no desire to be believable in any way, shape or form. Everything is painfully coincidental and almost annoyingly predictable, and for any other procedural show this would be a bad enough to shut it off 30 minutes in. But Santora and company have no problem owing any of it, and almost invite you to sit back and let the silliness unfold. It is this shameless approach that actually helps “Reacher” succeed more than it should. It’s adapting the basic form of fictional literature, and calling it airport terminal reading material is pretty much exactly what Lee Child has been going for and has been very successful creating this kind of unchanging series.

By trying to stay close to the source material, it seems as though “Reacher” wants to bring that same energy to the screen, and it turns out to be the right choice. As bingeable as that novels are for people that just want to read about a larger than life He-Man Sherlock Holmes roaming the rural backwoods of America, the show seems to understand that the best way to bring it to the screen is to do exactly that. I can’t really speak for the content of the book series, but it most certainly feels more in line with Child’s vision than the previous films. It’s a pretty big departure, so if you’re going in hoping the show to be a continuation of the Tom Cruise outings, you will be disappointed.

If you can bypass that disappoint and accept the absurdity while also recognizing that this is a much more faithful adaption, you’ll be treated to rather enjoyable action crime series. “Reacher” is a surprise for me, and though it isn’t normally my cup of tea, there’s enough here to be worth seeing through to the end. It doesn’t add anything new to the genre or break new ground in procedurals, but the show also isn’t concern with or meant to do so. It works perfectly fine in the familiar, and somehow ends up being better for sticking to predictability. Its only goal is to bring the novel’s to life, flaws and all, and it succeeds more than one would expect.

Reacher COURTESY OF PRIME VIDEO/AMAZON STUDIOS

I’m sure people more knowledgeable of the source material will find some things wrong with it, as adaptions seldom nail every aspect of what can be done in books. But as someone who doesn’t know anything other than the character is named Jack Reacher, the series does enough to build an interesting world that’s worth watching. “Reacher” may be low brow, surface level entertainment, but everyone involved seems to know this and own it, which puts both creators and viewers on the same page. You really can just turn the mind off and watch a gigantic man that locks like he was created by Zeus himself crack a few heads in-between his exposition dumps of expert deductive reasoning.

Reacher” is a solid stroll down a familiar road, and ends up being a pretty enjoyable watch that requires very little mental investment. I did NOT think this would be my conclusion, but I’m actually going to recommend the series and give it credit for being better than my cynical, critical mind thought it would be.

All 8 episodes of Reacher” hit Amazon Prime on February 4th, 2022.

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