A stranger comes to town. It’s the oldest plot in the book, and it’s also the oldest plot in Lee Child’s best-selling series of Jack Reacher novels. A new Amazon Prime Video series adapts Killing Floor, the first novel to feature one-man army Jack Reacher, and it banishes memories of the Tom Cruise movies with a more faithful rendition. The problem is, Reacher’s action might be too familiar.
Reacher streams on Prime Video starting Feb. 4. Season 1 consists of eight episodes and stars Alan Ritchson, Malcolm Goodwin, Willa Fitzgerald, Bruce McGill and Kristin Kreuk.
A man with no luggage steps off a bus. There’s nothing in his pocket but a passport and an obscure WWII medal. He has no Facebook, Instagram or even a driver’s license. But he does have quite a few identifying features: fists the size of turkeys, biceps like bowling balls and an unblinking stare that can resolve a parking-lot domestic dispute without having to say a word.
This is Jack Reacher, a man/mountain/military-veteran taking a wander across the country until trouble finds him. Strolling into the small town of Margrave, Georgia, he’s enjoying a slice of pie when he’s arrested by panicky police. The cuffs don’t fit, however — figuratively and literally — as not only is he innocent but he’s so big he can’t be restrained.
Former Blood Drive star Ritchson plays the man himself, and his hulking version of Reacher is everything the Tom Cruise version wasn’t. Cruise played the character in two movies in 2012 and 2016, but drew criticism from fans of the novels for being a fraction of the size of the muscled behemoth described by Child. This time round, Ritchson, who previously starred as superheroes Aquaman in Smallville and Hawk in Titans, looks like he could benchpress Cruise and then eat him.
So the star of the show matches the figure you’ll have imagined if you’re a fan of Child’s books. The question is whether the familiarity extends to the show in general. Something is rotten in Margrave, and Reacher is soon ass-whupping his way through a hierarchy of southern-fried low-lifes from rednecks to convicts to hired muscle as he simultaneously unravels a deadly conspiracy. Oh yeah, did we mention that in addition to being a regular he-man he’s a whip-smart detective? Also an insufferable smartass, and not necessarily in a good way.
Reacher gets ample opportunity to flex brain and brawn as 250 pounds of bone-snapping, eye-gouging frontier justice wading through Margrave’s bad guys. The series is a throwback to all-action small-town throwdowns of the past like Walking Tall (a 1973 flick that spawned various sequels and remakes, including a an early 2004 starring role for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson).
That means even if you haven’t read the books you may well have a feeling of deja vu, as it repeats well-worn elements you’ll have seen everywhere from Banshee to The Dukes of Hazzard: the sleazy mayor, the feisty deputy, the smooth-talking businessman who really runs the show. And the action breaks a lot of bones but little new ground, at least to start with. The first showpiece fight is a prison brawl, which is entertainingly wince-inducing but kinda cliched. It’s nowhere near as character-driven or witty as Justified, for example.
I also can’t help feeling the show tips its hand by diving into Reacher’s past. He’s set up as a man of mystery, still waters running deep, and yet the very first time we meet him we’re learning about his family backstory. I know it’s taken from the novel, but a case involving his brother feels more like season 3 or something, y’know?
Workmanlike but watchable, Reacher is a thumping action showdown even if it does tread familiar territory.