From the Archives: American Dad: The Adventures of Jack Ryan–Part 3

From the Archives: American Dad: The Adventures of Jack Ryan–Part 3

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

I am 34 years old. I am unmarried and I have no children. I don’t really have a career to speak of, and I am nowhere near considering buying a house. Basically, I’m doing things right, at least by way of me never wanting to give up my ability to do whatever I want at any given moment without answering to anybody for any reason at all. Yet despite my inclination to shirk any and all adult responsibilities I still feel a little bit like a dad. I tend to reject hip, new things, oftentimes purposefully mispronouncing the cultural item in question just to show how proudly out of touch I am with kids these days. I identify with the guy at the end of every tool commercial who folds his arms while giving a proud “job well done” look into the camera. I like what I like and I have no room for anything else, except shitty puns. I love shitty puns almost as much as love scoffing in general. So yes, I am becoming a total dad. As such, it’s about time I let some Tom Clancy into my life, don’t ya think?

I sure do! And having never seen a single Jack Ryan film, I’m going to cross them ALL of of my Shame List! Read the whole series here.

Oh, and just to be clear: I’m never having kids. They’re way too sticky for me.

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

Director: Phillip Noyce

Writers: Tom Clancy (novel, yes I will continue to credit him), Donald E. Stewart, Steven Zaillian, John Milius

Stars: Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, Joaquim de Almeida, Henry Czerny, Harris Yulin, Donald Moffat, Miguel Sandoval, James Earl Jones

Jack Ryan played by: Harrison Ford

Plot: When a businessman and his family are killed by a drug cartel, the President, who is also a personal friend to the victim, launches a secret retaliation campaign against the cartel’s leader. With Vice Admiral James Greer suffering a terminal illness, Jack Ryan steps in to keep an eye on things, finding himself at the center of an illegal war that goes against everything he stands for as a man. And as a dad.

Review: Easily my favorite entry in the series so far. After having found my preconceptions of the series to be a bit off base, perhaps this entry hewing closer to them is what draws my favor. Or maybe being three movies deep – two of which have a returning director and star – the series has found its legs. Who knows? All I know is that this one went down easiest, and despite having the most convoluted plot thus far, it was also the easiest to follow. Not that any are particularly hard to keep up with, it’s just that Clancy seems to be telling such huge stories that to reduce them to film length requires as much plot-shaving as it does exposition dumping, even when the film is 2.5 hours long.

So in the first flick (The Hunt for Red October), Jack Ryan was not the central focus, but merely a disruptive cog in the bureaucratic machine. As a stand-alone film, this works the serve the plot efficiently.  In the follow up film (Patriot Games), he was the main character AND the main plot propellant, with the board rooms and political conversations taking a back seat. This gives the character more room to grow into something memorable. In building a franchise around Jack Ryan, this is the way to go, even if it made for an inferior film overall. Clear and Present Danger is the perfect blend of these two usages of Jack Ryan. The film is not explicitly about him until it has to be, which makes his chance involvement in so much international intrigue feel natural. But it also keeps him feeling like an actual character. I imagine this makes the dads of the world squee with delight. Once again, Jack Ryan is a man with a job to do, a moral code through which to do it, and a family to come home to. If only he had a tool belt and a Popular Mechanics subscription.

Another thing dads love? AMERICA. Clear and Present Danger opens on a waving American flag. Later, at Greer’s funeral, “America the Beautiful” plays as the scene intercuts with footage of illegal guerrilla warfare in Colombia. The irony here is that dads watch this and probably think “this is why we need men like Jack Ryan — men like ME — to keep the powers that be honest.” Then they ignore heaps of corrupt politics in order to maintain party loyalty. It’s what dads do.

How bold of Clancy, obviously interested in pleasing dads, to depict the American government as so corruptible. The president (played as deliciously power drunk by the late, great Donald Moffat) uses his clout to enact petty revenge, and when caught, happily offers “get out of jail free” cards to his accusers. At the same time, Clancy takes pains to humanize the black ops team sent to engage in illegal warfare. As far as he’s concerned, they’re just taking orders, entirely unaware of the illegality of it all. They’re “just doing our jobs, ma’am” — a notion that all dads love.

Direction wise, Phillip Noyce gets to flex quite a bit. There are a handful of exciting action sequences that are shot with clarity, urgency, and – gasp – REAL EXPLOSIONS. I forgot how much I missed real explosions. They look so so so good. So tactile! You can almost feel the heat! In fact, there’s only one instance of CGI in the film, and honestly, it looks pretty great. A missile is followed from launch to target, zipping through the clouds above Colombia. Dated CGI is typically jarring, but it looks fantastic here (although still dated).

The most fun Noyce has is in a suuuuper dated computer hacking scene. In it, Jack has obtained access to the computer system of the super corrupt Robert Ritter (Henry Czerny aka Kittridge from Mission: Impossible). As he dicks around in the files, his hacker friend calls to alert him that everything he does could potentially be seen by Ritter if he were to log into his own computer at the same time. It’s immediately made clear that Ritter is indeed working in the same system to delete damning files before Ryan can access them. In order to slow this process, Ryan calls Ritter on the phone to make empty, distracting small talk while the two men covertly clack away at their keyboard. Noyce juggles the tension and the humor, while never getting lost in the potential murkiness of someone tapping away at a keyboard and yelling tech-speak (that’s Ted Raimi’s job — yes, he’s back). Scenes like this are why you need a guy like Harrison Ford. His ability to comically bullshit someone is unrivaled, and when the curtain drops and these two men make their intentions clear, Ford’s inimitable finger-pointing altruism is a cathartic delight.

In the end, this is precisely what each of these films is about: the unwavering duty to do what’s right, and the unending need for folks like Jack Ryan to keep corruptible powers in check. Jack Ryan will always do what’s right in any situation with minimal consideration given to his own well-being. Heck, when he’s explicitly told that his altruism will be his downfall his response isn’t to save face, it’s to say “If I’m going down, I’m taking you down with me.”  THAT’S conviction.

Dads love conviction.


  • Not to paint too broad a stroke here, but I miss the times when films didn’t take such pains to conceal who the villain is in cases where they are in the guise of an ally. I feel like a thriller such as this one would hinge upon the reveal that the President is behind it all had it been made today. I love that we are cognizant of the President’s criminal activity right off the bat. It’s a great bit of dramatic irony. When Ryan finds out, he’s hurt by it, and we see it all hit him at once.
  • There are three actors in this who eventually appear on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Anne Archer (Cathy Ryan) plays Dee & Dennis’ mom, Lynne Marie Stewart (Greer’s Secretary) playas Charlie’s Mom, and Tom Bower (The Drunk Pilot) plays Dee & Dennis’ Nazi grandfather. I guess I should mention that both Reg E. Cathey and Clark Gregg appear in a single scene together as well.
  • An alarm sound used at one point is the EXACT same one that’s used to indicate that you’re running out of time in Katamari Damacy.
  • Whenever I see camouflaged soldiers working in a jungle, my internal sensors immediately prepare for Predator to happen. It doesn’t happen here, but I’d have been into it for sure.
  • I now know why de-aged Willem Dafoe looks so weird in Aquaman: Willem Dafoe looks exactly the same 25 years ago as he does now.
  • If the big bad in the next Mission: Impossible movie isn’t Kittridge, it will be a huge missed opportunity
  • This movie has soooo much artillery usage isn’t it. Dads LOVE artillery.
  • The title of the movie is spoken out loud by a character right off the bat. I love when this happens.
  • I mentioned in my write-up of Patriot Games that it was weird to see Harrison Ford play someone with such clinical skills. Typically, Ford’s action chops stem from a bit of clumsy luck. It’s part of his charm, and C&PD brings it a bit to the forefront here. He has a couple of clumsy, comical moments. They feels somewhat at odds with the character, but it plays to Ford’s strengths. It’s the right move.

Best line: Toward the end, President Bennett is explaining to Ryan why it would be bad for him to testify to Congress. In explaining the politics behind his villainous decision (and offering Ryan a bribe), the following exchange happens:

– It’s the old Potomac two-step, Jack.

~I’m sorry Mr. President. I DON’T DANCE.

I’m also fond of the moment in which Willem Dafoe pulls a gun on Ryan and Ryan’s response is a frustrated/resigned “Don’t be an asshole.”

Worst line: This doubles as the most ‘Dad’ line in the whole film. Ryan gets caught hacking into Ritter’s computer:

-Jack, computer theft is a very serious crime.

~So are crimes against the Constitution!

Continuity: Welp, James Greer, our connective tissue to The Hunt for Red October is now deceased, and Jack Ryan seems to have taken his place. I don’t think this grants Ryan the title of Vice Admiral, but who knows what his title is at this point anyway? The White House is certainly about to face some type of upheaval, what with Ryan refusing to be bought by the President’s offer of quid pro quo. In fact, the film ends with Ryan about to testify against the President for his involvement in a covert, unsanctioned war. Where will this go? Presumably nowhere if what I understand about the next entry’s place in the timeline to be true (it’s essentially a reboot). So I guess this ends what could be considered a trilogy, although it’s admittedly difficult to see the latter two films as connected to The Hunt for Red October. Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford are too different for me to reconcile. What a strange place for the trilogy to end. The credits roll just after Ryan takes his oath in court. Does he take down the leader of the free world? Does America have to face a reckoning in the face of such corruption? Will Harrison Ford somehow morph into Ben Affleck? Only one of those questions will ever be answered.

Jack Stats

Age: Ford was 52 at the time of filming, and since his age is not mentioned, that’s what we’ll go with. I’m pretty sure that the year is never explicitly mentioned either, thus placing it in the present day of 1994. So while he is aging in real time relative to Patriot Games (1992), it’s a little wonky when The Hunt for Red October is included. Additionally, his son, with whom his wife Cathy was pregnant at the end of the previous film, seems to be somewhere between 3-5 years old. It doesn’t add up.

Job: He starts the movie once again as a “government guy” but by the end he has replaced Vice Admiral James Greer as the Deputy Director of Intelligence. So basically, “government guy.”

Family: It’s a boy!!! The cliffhanger gender reveal on the new Ryan child has been resolved. Once again it is made clear that Jack loves his family, and that his wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, is as able and smart as her husband. The Ryan clan is not notably featured in this film, and as much as I love the rapport between Ford and Archer, it would have been too much in a movie that’s already packed to capacity with characters and plot

What we know about him: Not much has changed. He’s a little less intense this time around, which is understandable since his family is not being directly targeted. It’s a shame that this is the last rodeo for Ford as Jack Ryan. I’m becoming pretty fond of his take on the character, and would certainly love to see more. I guess Jack Ryan is a bit like James Bond in that way. He’s got a base set of values and behaviors, but the actors who portray him each bring something of their own to the role. I could be wrong in this prediction, but I bet the next entries eschew the timeline entirely. This would certainly keep the viewer from feeling Die Hard syndrome (how could one guy be so damn unlucky??) while still keeping the same character alive in pop culture.

Clear and Present Danger is an absolute blast. It’s the perfect blend of action and intrigue. It also serves as a wonderful window into the culture of the early 90s both in a cinematic sense and a political sense. When the dads of the world say “They don’t make ‘em like they used to” this is probably what they’re talking about.

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