Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Watching horrible movies like “The Jackal” (*1/2 out of ****) is enough to make you howl in derision. This Bruce Willis & Richard Gere assassination saga ranks as a pallid remake of director Fred Zinnemann’s classic 1973 thriller “The Day of the Jackal.” Typically, Hollywood remakes are inferior when compared with the original, and “The Jackal” indisputably proves the point beyond a shadow of a doubt. Sluggishly paced, abysmally written, and hilariously performed, “The Jackal” has managed nevertheless to sucker large audiences into cinemas, based undoubtedly on its stellar cast, rather than its narrative.

“The Jackal” draws its inspiration from scenarist Kenneth Ross’s “Day of the Jackal” script. No screen reference appears in the opening film credits for novelist Frederick Forsyth who penned the international bestseller about a lone assassin gunning for French president Charles de Gaulle. Whereas the original “Jackal” took place in the 1960s, the “Jackal” remake unfolds in a contemporary setting. What made the original “Jackal” a tense, spellbinding, but imaginative actioneers was how the filmmakers got around their obvious dead end ending. Everybody knew that De Gaulle was never shot down by an assassin, so Zinnemann and his write Kenneth Ross had to dream up a plausible resolution. They did. “Memphis Belle” director Michael Caton-Jones and scenarist Chuck Pfarrer, however, come up with nothing to match the original’s clever conclusion.

That’s not to say that “The Jackal” isn’t an elegant looking epic with some interesting high-tech firearms. The moviemakers have spared no expense in rehashing the original. The story globe trots from the new Moscow to Helsinki, then London, England, and finally the United States. The problem is that director Caton-Jones and scenarist Pfarrer have eliminated the best parts of Ross’ original script and replaced them with their own brain-dead plotting. When the characters in “The Jackal” aren’t acting like imbeciles, the people who made the film are.

FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier) storms into a Moscow disco on the heels of Russian Intelligence officer Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora of “Wolfen”) and her policemen to bust arrogant Russian mafioso Ghazzi Murad (Ravil Isyanov of “GoldenEye”). When he cannot bribe Koslova, Ghazzi whips out a knife. During the ensuing struggle, Koslova shoots Ghazzi at close range and kills him. Terek Murad (David Hayman of “Walker”) is furious when he learns about Ghazzi’s death. Terek is so upset that he buries an axe in the head of the mafia soldier who brought him the bad news.

The vindictive Terek hires a lethal assassin known only as “The Jackal.” Demanding bloody retribution, Terek pays the Jackal the sum of $70-million dollars, half in advance and the other half on completion of the killing. Specifically, Terek demands the head of the FBI killed in spectacular fashion. The Jackal orders Terek to hole up somewhere outside of Russia until he has iced the FBI chief. Meanwhile, Russia authorities abduct one of Terek’s bodyguards.

Under gruesome torture the bodyguard yields the word ‘jackal.’ Koslova informs an incredulous Preston that the KGB once used the Jackal’s services. Moreover, they learn that somebody is alive who can positively identify the Jackal. The catch is that the FBI doesn’t know where they can lay their hands on Isabella (Mathilda May of “Lifeforce”). The best that they can come up with is her old flame, IRA terrorist Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere of “Internal Affairs”), who is pulling a 50-year stretch in a Massachusetts lock-up on a weapons charge.

Reluctant initially to reveal the whereabouts of his ex-girlfriend, Mulqueen decides to help the FBI. Not only does he tell Preston that he has seen the Jackal, but also that he can recognize the Jackal’s methods. Caton-Jones and Pfarrer cross-cut between the authorities tracking down the Jackal and the Jackal’s painstaking efforts to elude capture and devise a failsafe scenario so he can get away without a trace. As the tight-lipped, amoral, icy-hearted eponymous character, Bruce Willis turns in a Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hide performance. Willis’ hitman travels incognito with several identities and passports to get him through customs anywhere he goes. Talk about dressing up. Half of “The Jackal” is wasted as we try to spot Bruno in his next outlandish disguise. Willis has more fun dressing up than shooting people. None of Willis’ disguises are as ingenious or playful as the ones Val Kilmer wore in “The Saint.” Now, you “Die Hard” fans are going to be disappointed with “The Jackal.” One of Bruno’s disguises is playing a homosexual, and we get to see Bruno kiss another homosexual. No, you don’t see their lips smack! Willis and the filmmakers photograph the kissing scene tastefully so that you cannot actually see Bruce’s lips on the other fellow’s mouth.

Although Willis makes a tolerable villain, he is supposed to be the deadliest hitman in the world. Truth of the matter is that the guy cannot hit the side of a barn with his pistol. In an early shoot-out with Valentina, the Jackal misses practically every shot! Later, in a subway gunfight with Mulqueen, the Jackal incredibly cannot put a bullet in the ex-IRA gunman! Here’s the Jackal behind a pillar swapping lead with Mulqueen who is standing out in the open without a bit of cover, and the Jackal cannot hit him! Which brings me to the Jackal’s sophisticated Gatling gun weapon. Does he want to make the shoot-out a bloody one with a weapon that can empty its clip of ammunition before the first shot tears into its target? Or is it simply that the Jackal is a pathetic marksman?
Richard Gere looks hopelessly miscast as an honorable IRA gunman. His emerald accent is acceptable, largely because he doesn’t have to utter a lot of singsong dialogue. The moviemakers do everything that they can to whitewash Mulqueen’s character.

“The Jackal” could have been a great cat-and-mouse thriller, but all it manages to be is a wedge of cheese with a thousand holes in its storyline.

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