Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. Starring Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier, Diane Venora. (1997, R, 124 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Nov. 14, 1997
About the best that can be said for The Jackal is that it does full justice to the concept of a cinematic battle of wits between Bruce Willis and Richard Gere. This remake of Fred Zinnemann's well-regarded Day of the Jackal (1973) not only fails to match the modest entertainment value of Frederick Forsyth's workmanlike source novel, but actually moves into late contention for the title of 1997's most tedious movie. Planet Hollywood co-owner Willis, looking every bit the fat and prosperous restaurateur, is the title character, a sort Demi-god (as it were) among hit men. Hired by a Russian-based gangster to kill the FBI director, he's pursued by an American G-man (Poitier), a Russian military policewoman (Venora), and the good guys' secret weapon, an Irish Republican Army sniper (Gere), who's giving them the benefit of his terrorist savvy in exchange for a chance to get out of prison. One benefit of letting a hyphen-surnamed Scotsman with strong art/highbrow mainstream credentials (Caton-Jones' highest-profile films are Scandal and Rob Roy) helm an action movie is that we're spared many of the genre's muscle-headed clichés. The downside, though, is that there's not much visceral excitement here either. The story is heavy on talk -- stultifyingly dull talk at that -- and seems to neither gain nor lose intensity as it follows the Jackal through an excruciatingly prolonged series of preparations for the hit. It doesn't even work as a detective procedural. Most of the deduction is done by nameless FBI spooks who periodically burst into rooms to report the latest developments on the case. The accumulating malaise leads viewers to crankily ponder questions such as why a supposedly ultra-discreet hit man would discuss his mission on a cell phone, even blithely answering as “Jackal.” And why, after charging the Russki Godfather $70 million to do the murder, would he then be forced to buy his own fake ID and machine-gun tripod from low-level black marketeers? But then, better to obsess on these points than to pay close attention to the acting, which is often stunningly awful. Gere (who, it must be said, has by far the most vacuous lines in the film) is painful to watch as he grimaces, winces, and robotically postures in halfhearted efforts to conjure up some semblance of dramatic affect. Poitier mainly knits his brow and blusters, while the panda-like Willis shuffles nonchalantly through a series of laughable disguise changes, reminiscent of nothing so much as Chevy Chase's Fletch with an assault rifle. The general cluelessness extends even to the musical score, which is dominated by a weirdly inappropriate mix of faux-industrial and pop electronica sounds. The Jackal may not be the worst movie out there now, but with theatres full of more appealing choices, I'd recommend giving this dog a wide berth.