Friday, Nov. 14, 1997 | 9:03 a.m.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Richard Gere and Sidney Poitier.
Screenplay: Chuck Pfarrer and Kevin Jarre.
Director: Michael Canton-Jones.
Studio: Universal Pictures.
Rated: R for profanity, sexual situations and violence.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Synopsis: The world's most successful assassin, known as the Jackal (Bruce Willis), is about to strike again. His identity, location and target are all unknown. It's up to the FBI's Deputy Director (Sidney Poitier) and an imprisoned Irish terrorist (Richard Gere), the only one who can identify the Jackal, to stop this assassin, a man with a thousand faces. A worldwide chase ensues to capture the killer who has eluded the police for more than 10 years. They must capture the triggerman before he can complete his most important and deadly assignment.
Dave: First off, this political thriller is not a remake of Fred Zinnemann's 1973 classic "The Day of the Jackal." It is simply a different story completely. The film plays like a cat-and-mouse game -- except there is a chase within a chase. We have one that is motivated by a political agenda between Poitier and Willis; and then another woven in as a personal vendetta between Gere and Willis.
Jeff: I've never seen the original, but I can tell you that in this version there are scenes in "The Jackal" that I have seen before. For example: A gunfight takes place in a country house with a terrorist ("Patriot Games"); the FBI release a terrorist from prison to help them catch a different terrorist ("The Rock"); the target for termination is a high ranking government official ("Nick of Time," "Most Wanted"); two international assassins who have personal vendettas against each other ("Assassins") and, finally, in "The Jackal," a world famous movie star kisses a member of the same sex, on screen, for shock value ("In & Out"). Nothing new. Not even rehashed material with any interesting twists.
Dave: How can you say there were no interesting twists? Throughout most of the film, we are led to believe that the Jackal's target is someone within the FBI, until the revelation that our heroes are guarding the wrong individual. And so what if the film seems to mirror your list of movies. That was not the intent. Besides, it's not as if "Most Wanted" is an original story.
Jeff: WOW! The FBI was guarding the wrong guy. That is a cinematic twist. Good thing that twist came into play about an hour-and-a-half into the film. It makes so much more sense that the audience wasn't given any clues throughout the movie as to the real motive of the Jackal. It's so much more fun for the main character to have a random revelation -- right!
Some of the characters in the film were intriguing. Let's take the character of the Jackal: He's cool, mysterious and kills at random without remorse. But he takes so much time to set up the target that the movie slows to a crawl. After the fifth disguise and after the fourth passport he takes from an unsuspecting tourist, I was crying for him just to get on with it. Let's have some sort of action!
Dave: Were your eyes closed through half of this movie, Jeff? There were enough thrills, plenty of spills and great action to keep any intelligent person interested. Anyway, speaking of the Jackal, Willis is in rare form as the villainous assassin. He is perfectly cold and sinister, and absent are his patented facial expressions, mixed with the quirky comments. Willis actually sheds his reliable action-ego and displays some range as an actor, much like he did in "Nobody's Fool" and "Pulp Fiction."
Jeff: Yes, my eyes were closed during half of this movie. Nothing like a good nap. It bored me to death. The plot? Russia vs. America? I thought the Cold War was over. Aren't the Chinese and the Arabs our new enemies? I do have to agree with you on Bruce Willis. He's the only reason I was mildly entertained. He leaves behind any kind of personal persona and becomes a totally evil individual. Plus, he gets to be a master of disguises and gets to change his appearance frequently -- a great change for Willis.
As for the rest of the cast, Sidney Poitier is merely reprising his FBI role from "Sneakers" and Richard Gere is amusing as a jailed Irish terrorist who gets to walk around without handcuffs and eventually gets to carry a gun -- another actor who can't hold an Irish accent. Let's not forget the Russian major, Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora), a wannabe female terminator who would seem more at home in a James Bond movie than in this lackluster contemporary thriller.
Dave: OK, that did it! Every time an actor attempts an accent, you are always the first to ridicule. Thank God Meryl Streep wasn't cast. Gere, with his confident accent, shows more heart and passion as IRA terrorist Declan Mulqueen than in his desperate lawyer act in "Red Corner." As for director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy"), he does a fine job in allowing the story to unfold naturally within the frame, instead of using cut after cut or constant camera movements, as in most action-thrillers.
Jeff: Unfold naturally? It's about as natural as polyester. His direction was generic and the story was nothing more than padding. They could have cut out at least 30 minutes and save us from a prolonged, monotonous set-up that ends with a whimper. Where was the action? "The Jackal" was slow -- slow as an IRS refund check. Slow as welfare reform. Slow as a convoy through a school zone. "The Jackal" should be caught, skinned and sold on Rodeo Drive. See "Starship Troopers" instead.
Dave: Great advice, Jeff. Send them to a no-brainer, special effects-driven sci-fi film. But, folks, if you want sound performances by some big-name stars, an intricate plotline and a hip soundtrack to follow, "The Jackal" is worthy of a night out at the movies.