Jack Reacher is back on the screen and on the page, badder than ever

Tom Cruise, Jason Douglas and Judd Lormand in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (2016).
Tom Cruise, Jason Douglas and Judd Lormand in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” (2016). Chiabella James

Jack Reacher is returning to the public eye, in a couple of ways – in a new movie and in a new novel.

British author Lee Child’s ultra-popular rough ‘n’ tumble hero – a former Army MP and nomadic loner who makes his living as a “problem-solver” – will be played for the second time by Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” due Oct. 21. Cruise played Reacher in the 2012 movie “Jack Reacher.”

The story: Reacher returns to his old Army unit’s HQ, the 110th MP, to meet its new commanding officer, Major Susan Turner, motivated by her intriguing voice via a string of long-distance phone calls. Upon arrival, he’s shocked to discover she has been “detained” and he’s been charged with a cold-case murder. Soon, he and Susan are on the run, trying to prove their innocence.

Also, Child’s 21st title in the Jack Reacher franchise, “Night School,” is due Nov. 7 (Delacorte, $29, 384 pages). The prequel returns to Reacher’s Army days in the late 1990s, for one particular assignment: Find out just what it is that an unknown American traitor – someone at the Pentagon, perhaps, or inside the White House? – plans to sell to Mideastern terrorists for $100 million, and quell the unknown consequences.

Shortly before Child appeared for The Bee Book Club in November 2012, and weeks before the first movie, “Jack Reacher,” was released, the hot topic among his legion of fans for months had been the choice of Tom Cruise to play Reacher. In the novels, Reacher is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. Cruise is 5-foot-9 and weighs about 170 pounds. Or he’s 5-7 and weighs 150, depending on who’s doing the estimating.

Regardless, Child’s fans were vociferously unhappy with and derisive of the disparity between character and actor, ever since the casting had been announced the previous year.

I asked Child about it at the time. “I’m absolutely thrilled that anybody has an opinion, but I’m more relaxed about it than the readers have been,” he said. “People ask if I had any control (over the movie project). I had 100 percent control over whether or not I sold the (movie rights) to the book, yes, but I had no legal control or formal veto” when it came to writing the screenplay and casting the movie, he said.

Later, he shared with me some details of the decisive lunch he’d taken in New York early on, with his agent, publicist and reps from Paramount Pictures to discuss the feasibility of the project. Essentially, he was told that “Jack Reacher” would star Tom Cruise, or the film would not be made by Paramount. It was Child’s choice.

Perhaps ironically, Cruise was so effective and convincing in the role that 15 minutes into “Jack Reacher” the size difference was no longer an issue with audiences – and the box-office take certainly didn’t suffer. The movie made $218 million in theaters worldwide.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe