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Watch Shadow Recruit Online Despite a few absurdities and at least one glaring plot hole almost huge enough to swallow the entire movie, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" offers enough excitement to become a very serviceable January thriller.
This time, the young-again title character, adeptly played by Chris Pine, does not come from a Tom Clancy novel, as he did in four other films when Ryan looked a lot like Alec Baldwin ("The Hunt for Red October"), then Harrison Ford ("Patriot Games," "Clear and Present Danger") and Ben Affleck ("The Sum of All Fears").
Instead, it's an original screenplay (based on Clancy's ever-gallant character) from newcomer Adam Cozad and David Koepp, whose lengthy resume includes lots of good and famous stuff for the last three decades.
A little lazy writing here, however, allows post-9/11-inspired Ryan to glean some important info from an obviously intelligent and super-devious villain (Kenneth Branagh) simply because of a childish spat between our hero and his fiancee (Keira Knighley).
In fact, after the pre-arranged quarrel, Knightley's lovely Cathy, herself a brilliant doctor who shows up unexpectedly in Moscow in the first place, simply dismisses Ryan by suggesting that "somebody needs to take a walk."
Today, most people associate the character of Jack Ryan—originally created by author Tom Clancy, in a number of blockbuster novels—as a kind of hard-hitting action hero. This is thanks in large part to the series of films that began with 1990's masterful thriller "The Hunt for Red October" and continued with two Harrison Ford-as-Ryan entries, as well as a forgettable stand-alone starring Ben Affleck as the brainy CIA analyst. But in the novels and best parts of the earlier movies, Ryan is described and dramatized as something of a nerd, so encased in his own thoughts that he finds it difficult to leap into action. This week's aggressively mediocre "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," refashions the character (this time played by Chris Pine) into a man of immediate action, and in doing so drains him of anything that made him a relatable human being.
So, off Ryan goes into the dark Russian night while we are left to believe that Branagh's nasty and well-connected Cherevin might buy any of it, no matter how smitten he might be with the soon-to-be Mrs. Ryan.
There's more later, too, when "recruit" Ryan himself somehow smartly and too easily navigates the mean streets of this world capital in a pivotal car chase. Then, back home in New York, his dexterity in a similar motorcycle sequence has the financial future of America hanging in the balance.
All complaints aside, the heavy action material still outpaces the faulty logic, and Branagh, doubling as director, once more proves he can handle popcorn cinema ("Thor") as swell as he does Shakespeare ("Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet," etc.)
Meanwhile, young Pine, who already has a hugely popular franchise working with two "Star Trek" films under his belt, might have a second rebooted film series on his hands after so capably carrying the ball here.
By the way, the on-a-roll Kevin Costner ("Man of Steel," the upcoming Cleveland-based "Draft Day," TV's "Hatfields & McCoys") also helps when things work correctly, portraying Ryan's do-everything and rightly mysterious boss.
When "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" kicks off (and, just to get this out of the way, the ridiculous subtitle is never explained), Ryan is a student at a financial college in London. He sees his classmates gathered around a monitor and, approaching it, we realize that—huzzah—it's September 11th they're all watching unfold. That's right, folks, a national tragedy that traumatized the entire world has now become a minor plot point in an also-ran Hollywood thriller. Never forget.
From there the story jumps forward 18 months and Ryan has joined the military, en route to fight in Afghanistan. He was so charged up with patriotic piss and vinegar that he joins the military right after September 11th. What a guy. (Imagine what will happen when he sees "Lone Survivor.") Of course, his helicopter crashes, which anyone who even partially remembers "The Hunt for Red October" (or has watched any movie ever) will see coming from a million miles away. What's kind of interesting is that the Ryan-surviving-a-crash detail was concocted on the fly by that film's director, the deeply brilliant John McTiernan, and was never part of the Clancy/Ryan canon. It was meant as a small moment to deepen the Ryan character. But here, the filmmakers spend an ungodly amount of time on Ryan's recovery, which is where he meets his fiancé, the comely doctor Cathy (Keira Knightley) and his gruff handler William Harper (Kevin Costner), who basically prods him into joining the CIA.