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'Jack Ryan' reboot no shining example

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Having clung to the Russians as go-to villains long after the Cold War thawed, the movies find themselves current again with their favorite arch-enemy.

Cooling Russo-American relations have yielded an opening for the return of Tom Clancy's CIA analyst. In the Jack Ryan reboot, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” Chris Pine takes over as the spy who was played by Alec Baldwin (“The Hunt for Red October”), Harrison Ford (“Patriot Games,” “Clear and Present Danger”) and Ben Affleck (“The Sum of All Fears”).

It's a decent legacy of an intellectual action hero. Ryan is a navigator of murky, reasonably realistic, international espionage worlds. He has neither James Bond's suavity nor Jason Bourne's visceral butt-kicking skills, but instead finds his way with patriotic cunning.

“Shadow Recruit” tells a new backstory for Ryan. Inspired by Sept. 11, he joins the Marines and is heroically injured in Afghanistan. During his recovery, he meets his eventual fiancee (a doctor named Cathy played by Keira Knightley) and is lured to the CIA by a mysterious recruiter (Kevin Costner).

He's covertly embedded at a Wall Street bank, where he uncovers a Russian plot to buy U.S. Treasury bonds, which he suspects will be sold off in a coordinated act of terrorism and currency devaluation.

Ryan's investigation leads him to the Russian oligarch Viktor Cherevin, played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film. Certainly, it takes a bite out of the nationalistic politics when the movie's villain is played by a knighted British actor.

Branagh endows his film with old-fashioned competency — but little to distinguish it from superior thrillers that have come before. The best thing here is the sleekness of modern Moscow, where much of the action takes place. But “Shadow Recruit” is also disappointingly formulaic, relying on the familiar set piece-driven story of an implausible heist and a time-bomb finale.

Knightley is too strong a force for the girlfriend role. And when the global scheme is figured out in a minute with a bank of computer-searching analysts, one foresees the obsolescence of the action film: sprawling plots undone with a few keystrokes.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is perhaps, most significantly, a test for Pine as a movie star. Early in the film, when Ryan is forced to defend his life in a hotel room battle, he ably depicts the shock and horror of a man encountering such a circumstance for the first time.

But Pine also fails to make his Jack Ryan more than an afterthought to Baldwin's know-it-all or Ford's reluctant hero. As Costner's character says, he too much resembles “a Boy Scout on a field trip.”

Jake Coyle is the Associated Press film writer.

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