Guaranteed to get your blood pumping, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” moves so quickly that by the end credits, you might be left gasping for breath.
Barreling through Jack Ryan’s (Chris Pine) origin story in the first ten minutes, the Tom Clancy-created character leaves his economic studies to join the Marines, before an injury puts an end to his brief military career.
Recovering in a rehab center, he meets two people who will change his life indelibly: his doctor-turned-girlfriend, Cathy (Keira Knightley, in a rare role as an American) and the mysterious Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) of the C.I.A.
Jumping forward once again, Jack opts to put his knowledge of economics to good use as a financial analyst on Wall Street while secretly working for the Agency.
All the while spotlighting his selfless good nature – not to mention his baby blues – this rapid turn of events serves as an efficient checklist of everything an action hero should embody.
Above-average intelligence? Check. Patriotism? Check. Bravery? Check.
That’s not entirely a knock, either. In a post-“Dark Knight” world, Jack’s more akin to classic Superman than Henry Cavill’s brooding “Man of Steel” himself.
After starting at a sprint, the movie never lets up, showing him at work for a matter of moments before discovering that something is off with one of the company’s Russian business partners.
On Harper’s orders, Jack is thrust into his first C.I.A. field mission in Moscow in order to meet with businessman Viktor Cherevin (director Kenneth Branagh, pulling double duty) and stop “an act of economic war.”
For better or worse, “Shadow Recruit” is pretty heavy-handed when it comes to the ruthless Viktor, who is described as having a weakness for “vodka, vanity and women” and is serenaded by foreboding opera music a handful of the times he’s onscreen.
With nothing left to lose, Viktor sets a chain of terrorist events in motion to help the Russian government take down the U.S. economy.
To its credit, unlike many modern-day action flicks, “Shadow Recruit” never relies too heavily on gunfights or explosions to get the audience’s adrenaline pumping.
Instead, it successfully trades on old-school espionage, from rendezvous in darkened movie theaters and isolated forests to stealthy handoffs, though one contrived sequence threatens to devolve into a bad sitcom plot where the protagonist attempts to be in two places at once.
In spite of his original reluctance, Jack displays a natural aptitude for spy work, while never leaving his brand of dreamy, blemish-free heroism behind.
At one point in “Shadow Recruit,” Jack is asked point-blank, “Is there any chance you can get that Boy-Scout-on-a-field-trip look off your face?”
But if he could, there probably wouldn’t be much movie, and that’s kind of the point.
Rated PG-13, opens January 17.