Hot for ‘Reacher’

Amazon serves up a faithful adaptation for Lee Child’s anti-bullying side of beef

In the second episode of ‘Reacher,’ the title character breaks a man’s arm by headbutting his fist. Don’t worry. The guy deserved it. It’s the kind of anti-bully bullying Lee Child has been doling out for dad fiction fans over the course of close to 30 Jack Reacher novels and a collection of short stories.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

For those unfamiliar with the Reacher-verse, Jack Reacher–usually just Reacher–is a gentleman hobo living off an Army policeman’s retirement check. He has no fixed address. His only possessions are a toothbrush and the clothes on his back. He has a knack for walking into nowhere towns and dead end situations in desperate need of a savior. He’s taken on townie bullies, neo-Nazis, private armies, buttloads of corrupt cops, Werner Herzog, and, in the bizarre short story “High Heat,” David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. He’s all seven samurai stacked onto one another’s shoulders.

If you’ve read this far and are thinking, “What’s the point?,” then how did you get past the sentence about headbutting a fist? ‘Reacher’ isn’t for you. Please turn in your copy of Road House and leave.

The show takes everything back to book one of the series, ‘Killing Floor.’ Reacher (Alan Ritchson) and his toothbrush step off a bus outside Margrave, Georgia, to visit an old stomping ground of legendary bluesman Blind Blake. As he’s about to dig into a slice of peach pie, the cops arrest him for murder. Whose murder? Who cares? He’s a big hobo in a small town, so clearly he has something to do with it. Before Reacher can make it to vagrant murderer court, bodies are piling up faster than fresh-from-Boston chief detective Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) and his deputy, Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald), can bag ‘em and tag ‘em. Conspiratorial things are afoot in Margrave. Could it have something to do with the mysterious Kliner Industries facility that fuels the town’s economy? Duh.

Tom Cruise’s casting in the twosome of Reacher flicks stank of hubris, and there was a lot of whining about him being about a foot too short for the role. The books describe Reacher as a 6’5” slab of muscle. Cruise managed to put a spin on the Reacher character but it was never quite right. Ritchson has a head the size of a Hyundai Elantra parked on top of a UFC ultra heavyweight body. He walks as if he’s daring the wind to pick a fight with him. Not only is Ritchson physically right for the role, he understands the Sherlockian rudeness of Reacher’s interactions with the world in a way that a people pleaser like Cruise never did.. Why find middle ground when you can headbutt your way through it?

Ritchison has a head the size of a Hyundai Elantra parked on top of a UFC ultra heavyweight body. He walks as if he’s daring the wind to pick a fight with him.

There are problems with ‘Reacher.’ The production design has a slapdash newness that makes most of the sets look about as authentic as a Six Flags cantina. A town square statue of Margrave’s founder bears a hilarious resemblance to the world’s ugliest Confederate statue. On that note, the scripts hint at race and gender tensions but never actually talks about them. It’s like the show wants you to know that the baddies are probably racist but never wants to be explicit about it because that would ruin the fun.

And the show is fun. It’s ridiculous, of course. Why do they allow the hobo giant onto all of these crime scenes? If the whole town is in on the conspiracy, why don’t they all just surround Reacher with fire, and machine guns, and machine guns that shoot fire? Save that logic for shows like Ozark and Breaking Bad, where the characters back themselves into morally compromised corners the viewer can imagine trying to navigate. If Reacher were on Ozark, it would be about three episodes long and would mostly be a ginormous man folding cartel members into car trunks.

The fun of ‘Reacher’ the show and Child’s books doesn’t come from realistically imagining yourself in the situation. They’re fun because for a little while, you can see what it’s like to leave your house and bills behind, find the bullies of the world, and break their arms with your head.

Alan Ritchson has a totally normal body in ‘Reacher’ (Amazon Prime).

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Jonpaul Henry Guinn

Jonpaul Henry Guinn is a freelance writer, Jeopardy also-ran, pub quiz host, and U.S. army veteran. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he oversees staffing and training for Geeks Who Drink.

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