‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ plays like Tom Cruise self-parody

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Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” | Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions

WARNING: This review contains semi-major SPOILER ALERTS, especially if you haven’t seen a single action movie in the last 25-30 years. Thank you.

Let’s start with the cinematically lazy choice to stage a major chase-and-shoot sequence in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” during a Halloween parade in New Orleans, for crying out loud.

Never mind who’s doing the shooting and who’s doing the running, and why there’s so much shooting and running. That doesn’t matter, because nothing in this throwaway actioner really matters. (You could watch this movie late at night, while falling asleep, and then wake up every few minutes, and then fall asleep again, and you’d be OK without hitting the Rewind button on your magic clicker.) The whole thing is just so sloppy and dumb and overflowing with clichés.

Let’s run down just a few of the tired tropes that surface in the parade sequence:

We get overacting extras wearing colorful costumes, dancing about and trying VERY hard not to notice the principal characters threading their way through the throng, always managing to keep an eye on one another.

We get a dimwit protagonist who leaves the safety of a huge crowd on a brightly lit avenue (presumably patrolled by police) and chooses to run down a dark and deserted street, the better to be cornered by the villain. In the immortal words of Napoleon Dynamite, “Idiot!”

We get heroes and villains leaping from rooftop to rooftop, firing shots at one another, engaging in hand-to-hand combat — and nobody notices. I guess those fireworks in the distance are too much of a distraction.

We even get the classic standoff where the Good Guy says, “I’m putting the gun down!,” seemingly giving himself up, so the Bad Guy won’t kill the Innocent Victim.

And that’s just one elongated sequence of very bad badness. There’s plenty more where that came from.

Of all the action movies Tom Cruise has made in his long and monumentally successful career, this is one of them. Cruise is always a charming onscreen presence, but it’s apropos he’s often wielding a cellular device in this movie, because this is the very definition of phoning it in. One surmises Cruise faced bigger challenges deciding what to eat for lunch on the set every day than he did in actually playing this part.

“Never Go Back” is the totally unnecessary sequel to the mediocre and forgettable 2012 “Jack Reacher.”

The first one was a dud. This one’s worse.

Nearly every scene plays like a near-parody of a Tom Cruise actioner, from the numerous scenes where the diminutive and middle-aged Cruise systematically takes out superfluous henchmen and stunt doubles twice his size and half his age, through the cookie-cutter plot about greedy ex-military mercenaries spilling American blood in the name of turning a profit, to the ludicrous prison escape sequence and the even more ludicrous airport chase scene, to the smug, supposedly sophisticated villains who keep underestimating the legendary Jack Reacher, even though he’s THE LEGENDARY JACK REACHER.

The likable Cobie Smulders isn’t particularly believable as Major Susan Turner, a badass military lifer who heads up Reacher’s old Army unit. Off the grid and decidedly EX-military, Reacher nevertheless phones Turner on a regular basis and they work together solving major cases while also flirting and talking about one day meeting in person.

But when Reacher does show up at Turner’s Washington, D.C., office, he learns she’s been arrested for espionage and she’s in prison. Because we need some sort of hokey, unrealistic frame-up plot so Reacher and Turner can go on the lam and try to figure out why they’re both being framed.

And yes, there’s a scene where Turner wears a baseball cap in an “Internet café” in an effort to go unrecognized.

Also, Jack Reacher might have a daughter! Her name is Sam (she’s played with uneven uncertainty by Danika Yarosh), she’s 15 years old, she’s a real spitfire, and you better believe she ends up on the road with Reacher and Turner, so the three of them can team up and deal with any predictable “twist” the story sends their way.

Never Go Back? Don’t Go In.

★1⁄2

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Ed Zwick and written by Zwick, Richard Wenk and Marshall Herskovitz, based on the book “Never Go Back” by Lee Child. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements). Running time: 118 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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