Plus: Ice Cube and Kevin Hart attempt to kick things into high gear with their version of a buddy-cop movie, Ride Along.
Here's what to see and what to skip at the movies.
See ThisJack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Can the inoffensively charming Chris Pine actually step in as Jack Ryan, the CIA agent played by no less than Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and Harrison Ford? As it happens, yes – but mainly because this Jack Ryan is no superspy. Shadow Recruit nimbly reboots the franchise that began with 1990's The Hunt for Red October by taking Ryan back to his very first mission, before the student became a master.
The story takes place mostly in the present, though the plot is straight out of the Cold War. Ryan jets to Russia to meet with an oligarch named Viktor Cherevin (Shadow Recruit director Kenneth Branagh), who's secretly hatching a plot to crash the U.S. financial markets, which would trigger a second Great Depression. Ryan doesn't count on having to make his first kill on what's supposed to be a not-quite-routine financial audit. He also doesn't count on his girlfriend, Cathy (Keira Knightley), showing up just as things get really dangerous.
Knightley and Kevin Costner, playing Ryan's steely CIA handler William Harper, not only bolster the puppy CIA agent in the plot against Cherevin, they also add zing and depth. That's significant, because the film is content to be a solid, if not terribly ambitious, spy thriller. Branagh knows when to turn on the tension, and the sets have a certain cold stylishness, but Shadow Recruit doesn't take the genre anywhere new. That said, it's still January, and a perfectly competent thriller starring a guy as likable as Pine is a welcome relief in these frigid days at the box office.
See This If the Kids Are Asking About ItThe Nut Job
It's about time your kids learned that life is nasty, brutish and short, right? It certainly seems to be for the furry denizens of Liberty Park, all of whom are on the verge of starving over the winter thanks to an unprecedented food shortage. They wouldn't have to if that selfish creep, Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett), would use his pilfering powers for the benefit of all. Instead, he does his usual me, me, me routine, which compels the powerful Raccoon (Liam Neeson, using that spine-shivering "Very Particular Set of Skills" voice) to banish him from the park.
That sends Surly and his mute rat buddy, um, Buddy, out into the world to fend for themselves. They happen upon a nut shop that's being used as a front by a bunch of human thugs to plan a bank heist. That's when things really ramp up, as the creatures from the park, including lunkhead Grayson (Brendan Fraser) and bland Andie (Katherine Heigl), join Surly in a plan to knock over the nut shop. That may get kids hip to the fun of heist movies, but it probably won't make them embrace these prickly characters as much as the film would hope. The Nut Job not only needs more charismatic characters, it could also stand to add funnier jokes. Still, if your kids drag you to it, it won't drive you … bananas.
Skip ThisRide Along
Ice Cube and Kevin Hart turn in their version of the buddy-cop movie (of the don't-date-my-sister subgenre), and it turns out to be material we've all seen before. Cube is James, a hard-charging cop whose sister, Angela (Tika Sumpter), is in love with a mighty mouth named Ben (Hart). To humiliate his wannabe brother-in-law, James takes Ben on patrol, from one horrendous call after the other. The bland script gives Cube lines that fall flat, while Hart channels a shrieky, Rush Hour-era Chris Tucker. Laurence Fishburne adds some energy as bad guy Omar, but he shows up too late to save anything. Move along – you've seen all of these charming actors in better vehicles.