“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is a “Bourne” movie without the showpiece action scenes, the quirky characters or the carefully layered narrative. There’s plenty of “Bourne”-like vehicular mayhem, and there’s a ferocious close-quarters fight scene, too; but little of it is new, and its familiarity reminds us how much more distinctively this sort of thing was done in those earlier films. “Shadow Recruit” isn’t a bad movie — director Kenneth Branagh has constructed a professional piece of tech-thriller product — but it’s clouded throughout by an air of insufficiency.
The four previous “Ryan” movies — which starred Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck as the resourceful CIA intelligence analyst — were based on Tom Clancy‘s best-selling novels. This one isn’t. Now Ryan is played by Chris Pine, an actor whose default expression of drooping uncertainty seems wrong for the role; and his character has been inserted into a tale devised by screenwriters Adam Cozad and David Koepp. The story hinges on a sinister Russian banker named Cherevin (Branagh, with a thick accent that’s pure Pottsylvania). Cherevin nurses a bitter grudge against the United States and is plotting a terrorist attack on Wall Street (no cheering, please) and the destruction of the American economy. The movie is therefore heavy with talk of international finance, which is not especially thrilling, and further lumbered with the usual ratta-tap computer wizardry.
The picture appears to be an attempted reboot of the Ryan franchise. (The most recent film, “The Sum of All Fears,” came out in 2002.) So it gets underway, rather slowly, with a back story montage. We meet Ryan while he’s studying for a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in 2001. Jolted by 9/11, he joins the Marines and is deployed to Afghanistan, where we see a helicopter on which he’s traveling blown out of the sky by a barrage of choppy editing. Shipped back to the States, he regains use of his limbs with the help of (this is a little unclear) an aspiring ophthalmologist, named Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). Then a CIA honcho named Harper (Kevin Costner) turns up to recruit Ryan for duty on Wall Street, where he’ll monitor the funding of worldwide terror networks.
Ryan agrees, and before long his attention is drawn to Cherevin’s fiscal machinations. Ryan and Harper take off for Moscow, where they soon are joined by Cathy, who doesn’t know that Ryan is a CIA agent. (They’ve now been together for three years.) There’s much cat-and-mousing with Cherevin, and there’s a good scene in a fancy restaurant where Cathy distracts the silky financier with flirtatious small talk while Ryan slips away to do improbable things with computers. There’s also some business with a Russian sleeper agent, a very old-school ticking time bomb and a vital algorithm. Dazzling Harper with his higher-ed erudition, Ryan says, “We’re looking at the Panic of 1837!” Harper says, “We still need this algorithm!”
This sort of picture really requires the dash and charisma of a full-bore movie star in the lead. Pine isn’t there yet, and he’s outclassed by Costner’s easy warmth and old-pro line readings. And while Branagh is, of course, an excellent performer, he’s not really a “movie star,” either; murmuring his dialogue (“America vill bleed”) through tightly compressed lips, he seems more like a ventriloquist in search of his dummy than he does a world-class villain. The actors go through all the motions of genre intrigue, but the movie goes nowhere new.