As CIA man Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears, Ben Affleck inherits the Tom Clancy character Harrison Ford made his own, and reinvents him as a younger, less savvy, less macho spy. Affleck’s Jack is an agency analyst who gets thrown into the middle of a U.S.-Russia missile standoff and ends up as the only guy who can stop Armageddon. At that point, his dubious action-hero qualifications actually add to the suspense. This, after all, is a job for Indiana Jones. Can the guy from ”Bounce” pull it off?
Whether Affleck’s occasionally exciting derring-do is what the doctor ordered isn’t the point. Where ”Sum” grabs you is in the buildup to what was once unthinkable: a terrorist-detonated nuclear blast in a packed Baltimore football stadium. You know it’s coming, yet when it happens, with shocking suddenness, it still blows your hair back. And the fact that such an event is no longer unthinkable only makes the sequence more deeply unsettling than the filmmakers could have imagined while shooting it, just months before 9/11. Back then, these scenarios were still about selling popcorn.