Reacher review: Sorry Tom Cruise, this Amazon TV series is by the books

With season 2 confirmed, new series Reacher steps into a small-town throwdown that's all too familiar even if you haven't read the bestselling books.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read
Alan Ritchson as Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher: stretching T-shirts on Amazon Prime Video now.

Amazon Prime Video

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 now, with all eight episodes of season 1 available from Feb. 4. Season 2 was confirmed by Amazon just days after releasing the show, which 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 World War II 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 bench press Cruise and then eat him.

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. Anyway, 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. 

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). Something is rotten in Margrave, and Reacher is soon ass-whupping his way up a hierarchy of southern-fried low-lifes from rednecks to convicts to hired muscle as he simultaneously unravels a deadly conspiracy.

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. Reacher is nowhere near as inventive as Justified, for example, or as character-driven or witty. 

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, 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?

Fans of the books will no doubt be pleased, at least. It may not be innovative television, but Prime Video's version of Reacher is workmanlike and watchable.

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