Tom Cruise stars as steely eyed bad-ass 'Jack Reacher'.

Tom Cruise stars in ‘Jack Reacher’.

There’s half of a good movie scattered throughout Jack Reacher; unfortunately, it’s overwhelmed by the half that’s not so great. Produced with the intent to kick-start a franchise, it’s so workmanlike and dull that it’s likely to amount to little more than a one-off.

That dullness is particularly off-putting, considering it is written and directed by Chris McQuarrie — who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for the crime classic The Usual Suspects — stars audience-fave Tom Cruise in the lead role, and adapts one of author Lee Child’s insanely popular neo-pulp novels. What should have been a no-brainer simply comes across as brainless.

In short, Cruise’s enigmatic ex-military cop/mega-bad ass Jack Reacher drifts into Pittsburgh to investigate the case of a sniper, James Barr (Joseph Sikora) accused of gunning down five people in broad daylight for no apparent reason. The case is airtight, and everyone believes the guy is guilty, including Reacher, but of course the movie wouldn’t be feature-length if there wasn’t More Than Meets the Eye.

Barr’s attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), hires Reacher in hopes that he can at least keep the man off death row, largely to spite her father (Richard Jenkins), who is also the DA prosecuting the case. Because there is More Than Meets the Eye going on, and because Reacher is a gifted action hero, the inevitable beat-downs, shoot-outs, and car chases ensue, capped off by a half-hearted confrontation.

It’s the kind of performance that Cruise can deliver without effort, which he pretty much how he goes about it. He’s reduced to playing a caricature in Lethal Weapon Lite, all clenched-jaw and piercing stare as he tries to meld his trademark Cruise-isms to some really hackneyed dialogue in service of a character who is a detached, arrogant, self-entitled jerk. If Cruise could sell Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol why couldn’t he do the same with this hot mess?

Probably because McQuarrie drops the ball. The script is formulaic, monotonous, and insipid; the direction is workmanlike and lacking in style, except for a car chase sequence that flirts with the likes of Bullitt and The French Connection. His sole inspired choice lies in casting (but under-utilizing) bad-boy director Werner Herzog as a truly sinister and bizarre crime lord known only as the Zec, but even that is sabotaged by thin characterization and bad plotting. He — and the viewer — deserves better.