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“Jack Reacher” starts off with a long, deliberate depiction of a gun being meticulously loaded, the view from the cross hairs as the shooter aims at random people going about their business, and the sight of victims falling to the ground as others (including children) run, terrified. It’s something some of us may not have the stomach to watch at this particular time; those who do will find a workmanlike action thriller, competent but never particularly thrilling.

Perhaps the problem is the casting of Tom Cruise as the title character, a mysterious ex-military sharpshooter who’s called to help investigate the mass shooting. The subject of numerous novels by Lee Child (“One Shot” is the one on which this movie is based), Jack Reacher lives off the grid as a sort of plainclothes superhero who magically turns up when you need him, as if responding to a Bat-Signal. Cruise, an actor who doesn’t usually have “mysterious” in his bag of tricks, plays him with a cool but overstated nonchalance; he’s less a character than a series of dramatic pauses. He’s also uncannily indestructible: able to beat up entire groups of thugs single-handed; surviving a whack over the head with a baseball bat with only the merest of hesitations.

Reacher’s job is to help public defender Helen Roden (Rosamund Pike), who takes on the soon-comatose alleged killer as a client — and soon begins to wonder if the case is exactly what it seems. The chemistry’s off between them — Pike melo­dramatically mumbles her lines; perhaps the American accent gave her trouble? — but the rest of the casting works well. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie cleverly cast filmmaker Werner Herzog as a cloudy-eyed, finger-lacking villain; he’s barely in the movie, but registers diabolically. David Oyelowo, Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall give strong support. There’s one good car chase, a predictable but fair-enough ending, and a lot of gunfire (particularly considering the PG-13 rating); a soundtrack that, this week, feels particularly unwelcome.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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