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'The Jackal' Redux: Mission Implausible

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 1997

  Movie Critic

Michael Caton-Jones
Bruce Willis;
Richard Gere;
Diane Venora;
Sidney Poitier;
Mathilda May;
Tess Harper;
James Michael McCauley;
Patrick Stewart
Running Time:
2 hours
Under 17 restricted

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"The Jackal" is based on a fabrication so absurd that it almost made me laugh out loud. I'll buy into the Russian Mafia paying asecret operative millions to take out an American political figure. I'll buy his magical ways with computers, disguises, weapons,accents, languages and wardrobe. I'll buy into his courage, his cunning, his close-quarter battle skills.

But the Jackal's whole plan turns on his ability to do what no man has ever done before -- easily find a parking spot inWashington, D.C.!

He has to park a station wagon on a hill overlooking a site where his target will be giving a speech, so that the robot-controlledantiaircraft cannon in the back seat can be deployed to bring maximum hurt to the target zone while the Jackal sits a fewhundred feet away controlling it with a joystick.

The movie doesn't show a lot of imagination in its other details either. Derived from the screenplay of the infinitely superiorFred Zinnemann version of the Frederick Forsyth novel, it adds flourishes and complexities and pyrotechnics but in no wayintensifies the story. In fact, all the padding de-intensifies the story until it's but vapors and whispers, with the odd shootout toshake the zzzz's from your brain.

Bruce Willis plays the killer as if in a daze from flashbulbs at too many Planet Hollywood openings. He zombie-walks throughthe role with a slack face, dead eyes and the occasional funny hairpiece. Whatever working-class excitement he's able to bringto his other roles is completely lacking here. Worse, he has no one, really, to play off, no foil. He just seems to walk through alot of airports. In the original movie, 1973's "The Day of the Jackal," the Jackal was a type. Edward Fox played him, asForsyth had imagined him, as an English gentleman of military bearing -- the sort of man who'd won World War II withoutever missing tea. In seeing him, we could imagine a background. Willis is a floater; he seems to have come out of the ether.There's no implication of Special Forces training or anything that would render him creditable; he's just nothing but a hairpiecemodel.

On the other side of the story, the canny French detective Lebel (Michel Lonsdale) of the Forsyth-Zinnemann edition hassomehow subdivided asexually into three characters, thereby turning the design of the movie from a cat-and-mouse game intoa cats-and-mouse game, which isn't nearly so much fun. Of these three, the most inane is poor Diane Venora under a rubberscar playing a KGB officer with heavy lids, a bad cigarette jones and a smeary Slavic accent. You're thinking: I thought Garbowas dead! And the idea of her driving around the United States interrogating citizens is just too funny for words.

Sidney Poitier doesn't register strongly as an FBI special agent in charge. Poor Richard Gere is completely twitty as the thirdmember of the team, a paroled Irish terrorist who is recruited because he knows what the Jackal looks like. But how can he?The Jackal's thing is disguise. In "The Rock," Sean Connery played a similar role, the necessary outlaw outsider, but youbelieved it because he knew something absolutely crucial to the solution of the problem.

In this much more slackly imagined film, Gere's Declan Mulqueen seems out of place. You're telling me that with a world-classmurder technician on the trail of a high government official, the best we could come up with is these three clowns? That's liketelling me that with a 500-yard shot to save a life upcoming, a trained U.S. Marine sniper is going to hand the rifle over to anIrish beatnik who thinks it's a "gun" and has been in the can for eight years! And yes, the movie tells us that one, too.

Credibility, throughout, is a problem that "The Jackal" cannot overcome. It seems stupid and juvenile and just when it shouldbe tightening, it's loosening. It's certainly not helped by an ugly episode of homophobia, in which the movie invites us to enjoythe confusion of a gay man who, picked up by the Jackal so he'll have an operating base in D.C., finds that the wonderfullyexpressive, sexy man he met a month earlier has turned into a stoic, violent breeder. Then Willis blasts him, just to shut up thegay prattle.

Director Michael Caton-Jones's last film, "Rob Roy," was one of the best of 1995, a deep historical saga with passion andvitality. Here he's doing the commercial thing and neither he nor anyone who is working on the other side of the camera seemsto believe in it one bit.    

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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