[Fresh on TV] Amazon’s ‘REACHER’ is like Caine of ‘KUNG FU’ with a higher body count

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

Rating: TV-MA (8 episodes)
Creator: Nick Santora (based on the novel “Killing Floor” by Lee Child)
Cast: Alan Ritchson, Malcolm Goodwin, Willa Fitzgerald, Bruce McGill, Chris Webster, Kristin Kreuk, and Currie Graham

REACHER debuts exclusively on Amazon Prime on Feb. 4.

Reacher said nothing. Those three words say it all without needing to say anything. Longtime readers of Lee Child’s thrillers will know this phrase immediately. They know who Reacher is, where he comes from, and how he operates. Even the unacquainted would have likely come across him inside airports grabbing a coffee and something to read to pass the time, maybe at the supermarket in the section reserved for magazines and recent New York Times bestsellers, or even at the movies.

Reacher is his last name. Jack is his first. But it is always Reacher, never Jack.

He’s not an officer of the law or a private detective, but he does have a particular set of skills and a physique that would make Dwayne Johnson stop and raise an eyebrow. Johnson likely raised an eyebrow when Reacher was first brought to life, cinematically, ten years ago with Tom Cruise in the film JACK REACHER. OK, if you have never read one of Lee Child’s books, you can buy Cruise as Reacher. He’s got the gravitas and swagger to pull it off. What Cruise didn’t have is the right physique. Reacher is an imposing six-five, weighing close to 250 pounds, with a very broad chest in the books.

Ten years after Cruise’s lukewarm debut, which was followed by a worse sequel, Reacher returns. This time it is with Amazon Prime, and it arrives less than a year after the streamer finished its police drama BOSCH, based on Michael Connelly’s bestselling mystery series.

Going back to the basics and where it all started (with the 1997 novel Killing Floor), REACHER finds our hero stepping off an express bus at a road junction. The road leads into Margrave, GA, an idyllic, small-town community where everything looks like it’s had a fresh coat of paint applied and where not much happens. A stranger new in town, Reacher can’t even enjoy a slice of peach pie at the local diner without the local authorities converging on the restaurant and arresting him for murder. Now he must prove his innocence through skilled intuition and force of will.

Mysteries and thrillers are pushed forward by their plots. But one of the biggest reasons people gravitate to them – novel series, in particular – has less to do with the crime committed or getting from point A to B to C. The reason is character. Character is king, after all. Reacher is such a character. Show creator Nick Santora (“Scorpion”) understands this better than writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise did when bringing Lee Child’s creation to the big screen.

Alan Ritchson (TITANS) stars, and from the very start, he has the physique to pull off Reacher and embodies his moral compass when it comes to right and wrong. Pantomiming Tim Roth in RESERVOIR DOGS: The dude looks like Dennis Quaid and has the swagger of Patrick Swayze.

This Reacher does appear too pristine, however. As a former Army major and military police officer, visible scars would be expected. But Ritchson has a face that looks like it was fully formed by a sculptor and not a rush job. Women won’t be complaining about this change.

Over the course of its eight episodes, REACHER provides a hefty amount of action and conspiracy as our hero works to solve one homicide while committing several others. On his side are Finlay (Malcolm Goodwell), Margrave’s chief detective, and Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald), a female officer who is no damsel in distress and can’t stand those who are patronizing to her.

If you are wondering, yes, Reacher says more than nothing. He might even talk too much. But it wouldn’t be much of a thriller if our hero didn’t say more than a few words. Reacher has a keen intellect and uses it well when his fellow officers are stumped. Everything, even waiting and observation, is important when it comes to details. He also knows when to use brute force to solve problems. The combination makes him a rarefied specimen. Perhaps this is why he is satisfied to live as a vagrant, going town to town. No longer following the rules and structure of military life, he walks down a new avenue.

He may not be a Shaolin Monk roaming the earth, but I’m hopeful, like Caine, viewers will be able to keep stride and see where REACHER goes next.

Grade: B