The Jackal (1997)

There are certain adjectives associated with political thrillers. They are the kinds of words, often followed by an exclamation point, that are featured prominently in advertisements for these films, words like "Taut!" and "Suspenseful!" and "A rollercoaster thrill-ride of edge-of-your-seat excitement!" None of those words apply to *The Jackal*. Not one. There are really only two words that acurately describe this soporific movie: BORE and ING. I would add an exclamation point to that, but it might give the misleading impression that there was something even remotely exciting about *The Jackal*. And there isn't.

A comatose remake of *The Day Of The Jackal* (1973), a taut, suspenseful, political thriller about an assassin hired to kill Charles DeGaulle, *The Jackal* features Bruce Willis as an assassin hired to kill the director of the FBI. Exciting, no? The director's name is Donald Brown, which is one of those generic names a writer would ordinarily use until he thinks of something more interesting. Apparently the unusually named screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer forgot to change Donald Brown's name to something interesting and exciting, and forgot to do the same for the movie as well.

"The Jackal," as the assassin is known, is a so-called master of disguises. He possesses a lot of wigs and an assortment of fake mustaches and phony identification papers which allow him to cleverly elude capture even though he always looks exactly like Bruce Willis in a bad wig. He is hired by a Russian mobster, disgruntled because his mobster brother was killed during a sting operation in a discotheque by Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora), a Russian operative working with the FBI in Moscow. "It's never easy taking a life..." the wise and noble FBI agent Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier) tells Koslova. So, after the brother kills one of his own henchmen by embedding an axe in his skull ("I took no joy in it..." he mopes), he hires "The Jackal" to exact his revenge.

Meanwhile, after exciting side trips to Helsinki and Montreal, the FBI and Koslova are back in the States after somehow uncovering the insidious plot to kill the director of the FBI. They enlist the help of Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere), an IRA sharpshooter imprisoned in Massachusetts on a weapons charge. Mulqueen and "The Jackal" have a history, having something to do with Isabella Zancona (Mathilda May) a beautiful Basque separatist. According to Koslova, "Basques live by the vendetta. If they hate someone, it is to the death. It is the same when they love someone." These are important facts to remember, because Isabella hates "The Jackal," and she loves Declan, so somebody is bound to wind up dead.

After about two hours of mind-numbing boredom, during which "The Jackal" carefully but impassively plans his job, and Declan attempts to figure out what his next move will be (something he does with amazing skill, but always about ten minutes too late), *The Jackal* finally lurches into second gear, where it stays until the bitter, boring end. The less than exciting climax features a textbook subway tunnel chase, a shootout with hostages, and a not very surprising surprise.

Directed by Michael Caton-Jones (*Rob Roy*), *The Jackal* is really a very bad movie. The dialogue is preposterous and the action is bloody but anemic. "The Jackal" is a totally formless character -- the movie is a lot more interested in his great big gun and minivan than in exploring why he is such a cold-blooded and passionless zombie. Willis could have played this one in his sleep, and one suspects he did. Gere's Irish brogue is serviceable, and he's appealing enough as Declan, but he doesn't have much to work with here -- the passionate IRA man has been done, and this movie covers nary an inch of new ground with the character. Basque separatists, on the other hand, are something you don't see a lot of in movies these days.

*The Jackal* is prime cheese -- Swiss cheese, with plot holes big enough to drive a minivan through, which makes for an insensible, pointless story full of meaningless details. If you can keep from nodding off, the movie is easy to follow, but that's only because *nothing ever happens*. You could sleep through the first two hours, wake up for the last five minutes and have no trouble figuring out what's going on, but that would only ruin a good nap.