The Jackal


The Jackal

Anyone think Bruce Willis is overcompensating just a bit?

(1997) Suspense (Universal) Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier, Diane Venora, Mathilda May, J.K. Simmons, Richard Lineback, John Cunningham, Jack Black, Tess Harper, Sophie Okonedo, Daniel Dae Kim, Leslie Phillips, Stephen Spinella, Larry King. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

 

The old saying goes that it takes a thief to catch a thief, which to my mind is utter claptrap. Plenty of thieves have been caught by people who aren’t thieves. However, if you’re going to follow that logic, then it follows that it takes an assassin to catch an assassin.

A raid on a Russian disco by the FBI and Russian military cops ends up with the brother of a high up figure in the Russian underworld getting shot. He blames the FBI for his brother’s demise and enlists the services of the most notorious assassin – only known as the Jackal (Willis) – who accepts a payment of $70 million to off the director of the FBI.

Deputy director Carter Preston (Poitier) gets wind of this and is presented with quite the dilemma; nobody knows what the Jackal looks like which is quite handy if you’re an assassin. Actually, that isn’t quite true – there is the former terrorist for the IRA named Declan Mulqueen (Gere) who knows what he looks like. And, if he is willing to help Preston and Major Valentina Koslova (Venora) track down the Jackal, well, the feds would be grateful. At least he’ll be able to get out of prison and see his former girlfriend, a Basque terrorist named Isabella Zanconia (May) who is now married to another man and living in Northern Virginia, who also knows all about the Jackal. For somebody whom law enforcement agencies have so little information on, these ex-terrorists sure have the goods on him.

Even with Mulqueen’s help, the Jackal leads them on a merry chase around the globe. He’s building a big bad remote control gun with which he can take out his target without actually being on the site; poor Jack Black (in an early role) plays a rawkin Canadian gunsmith who asks one annoying question too many and gets perforated by his own creation. That sucks rocks, dude.

Things get far more personal between Mulqueen and the Jackal and it turns into a kind of mano a mano cat and mouse game between the two. Still, how do you stop him when you don’t even have the target right?

This was based loosely on the 1973 thriller Day of the Jackal which in turn was based on a novel of the same name by Frederick Forsythe which was based on a real life plot to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle of France. That movie is considered one of the classic thrillers of its day and still holds up well nearly 40 years later.

I don’t know that this one will hold up as well in 2037. It has been utterly Americanized and comes off with the Jackal as kind of a cut-rate anti-Bond, with all sorts of gadgets and disguises – Willis has a goodly share of wigs, hairpieces and fake moustaches which must have been fun for him, and he has a different personality with each look from a frumpy Canadian to a suave gay man to a no-nonsense cop. Willis makes a pretty credible bad guy.

Gere’s performance is pretty good. Although his Irish brogue is inconsistent, he has the charisma to make what is essentially an IRA terrorist a sympathetic character although they backpedal and make the good guy terrorists in the movie mostly non-lethal who were more freedom fighters than terrorists. I wonder how sympathetic Gere would have been if we found out that Declan Mulqueen had taken part in a school bus bombing, something that the IRA actually did. Still, he is in full-on movie star mode here and carries the movie pretty well, although Poitier who was undergoing a career renaissance when the film was made, is reliable and gracious enough not to steal the movie out from under his nose which he was fully capable of doing.

The plot often takes ludicrous twists and turns and requires some pretty severe leaps of faith as logic often fails here. There is also a kind of Eurotrash undertone particularly in the soundtrack and some of the scenes that have Willis posturing a little overly much. The ending is a bit of a groaner too. However as empty-headed action thrillers go, this is one that I still view from time to time with enormous affection. However for real thrills I would suggest you see the 1973 version first.

WHY RENT THIS: Poitier is as always terrific. Some terrific action scenes. Willis is excellent as the villain.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Gere’s accent is unconvincing. Takes itself too seriously. Too much Eurotrash. Poor ending.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a good deal of violence and strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fred Zinnemann, the director of the original Day of the Jackal reportedly asked that the title of the remake be changed shortly before he passed away because he felt the original stood the test of time and was a completely different film from the newer one, which should warrant a different title.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While the DVD is sorely lacking in features, the Blu-Ray has a bunch including an unusually informative commentary track and a nice featurette comparing the 1997 version with the original 1973 film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $159.3M on a $60M production budget; this was profitable (more than).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Day of the Jackal

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Barry Munday

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Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Sarah Jessica Parker takes aim at the screenwriter while Hugh Grant nervously checks for witnesses.

(Columbia) Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elisabeth Moss, Jesse Liebman, Michael Kelly, Wilford Brimley, Gracie Bea Lawrence, Kim Shaw, David Call, Seth Gilliam, Sandor Tecsy, Steven Boyer, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Marc Lawrence

A relationship depends on trust in order to work. However, once the trust is gone, can a relationship still exist or is it doomed to fail?

The relationship between Manhattan lawyer Paul Morgan (Grant) and his wife, successful boutique realtor Meryl Morgan (Parker) is in crisis. They have been trying to have a baby without any success and now Paul’s infidelity has caused the couple to separate. Paul really wants to get back together again with his wife, but she can’t get past her own feeling of betrayal. Hey, it speaks volumes that in order for the couple to even plan dinner together, they have to resort to having their personal assistants – overbearing Jackie (Moss) and cojones-challenged Adam (Liebman) rework their schedules just so they can align their schedules.

The dinner goes surprisingly well and Meryl allows Paul to walk her around the corner to a late showing for a new client. However, in a bit of a buzzkill, the new client is murdered before their eyes. As luck would happen, it turns out the client was co-operating with the FBI in a case against an international arms dealer who had hired a professional hitman to do the job. Now the assassin knows who the Morgans are, so U.S. Marshall Lasky (Gilliam) puts the quarreling couple in a witness relocation program.

Meryl is aghast. Not only is she leaving behind her beloved New York and her booming business but they are being sent to Ray, Wyoming, a flyspeck of a town in the middle of the Rockies. They will be cared for by the town sheriff, Clay Wheeler (Elliott) and his gun-totin’ wife Emma (Steenburgen) who are also employed by the U.S. Marshall service for the purpose of witness relocation because their location is so remote.

Paul is a bit upset because he has a thing about bears, which virtually guarantees he is going to encounter one in a movie like this. Meryl is a bit upset because she has no cell phone, blackberry or internet, which means she is going to find a phone which will lead the killer right to them. Both are bemused by the big rodeo celebration complete with (and this we are told emphatically) bull riding, which means that the two of them will wind up in the ring with the bull. And, sure as shootin’, the two city slickers are going to be inspired by them kindly western sorts into getting back together. Ain’t love grand?

Director Marc Lawrence has written, directed and occasionally produced some nifty romantic comedies, such as Music and Lyrics but this won’t be remembered as one of his better movies. The script is a bit light on the laughs, which is not good news for a comedy. It is also incredibly predictable and you sit in the darkness of the theater, praying to whatever being you worship for some kind of swerve, anything. Sorry chum; your prayers won’t be answered.

I normally like Hugh Grant a lot, which is why I wanted to see this in the first place (Da Queen, who reacts to Sarah Jessica Parker much in the same way a dog reacts to a police siren, was much less eager). However, he has little to do but furrow his brow (which he does to the point you think his nose is going to pop right off his face), look dreadfully uncomfortable and generally apologize repeatedly to the point where you want Liz Hurley to walk onscreen and slam him over the head with a cast iron skillet and say with a smirk “apology accepted – now shut up!” Come to think of it, Hurley would have been a much better casting choice here.

The sad thing is that some great actors are wasted. Sam Elliott, the quintessence of the American western tough guy, is placed in the awkward position of acting as a marriage counselor to the Morgans. I really felt for the guy; he’s due a really good role right about now and quite frankly, he hasn’t gotten one. Steenburgen is one of my favorite actresses from the 80s and 90s and is still gorgeous to my eye; she’s also warm and charming. Here, she channels Sarah Palin quite nicely (as the script leadenly points out in a line that might have been funny if uttered at a better moment) and gamely gives her all in a poorly written role.

While this is a good looking movie (the rugged western vistas of the Wyoming mountain country and the star-filled night sky contrast with the lights and concrete canyons of Manhattan), I found little that grabbed my attention. At the public screening I attended, there was almost no laughing and little more than the occasional sounds of popcorn being munched and soda being slurped. I have rarely heard an audience so quiet in my entire career.

The filmmakers try to make this funny but they only succeed in making it awkward, with terrible silences filling the movie. The effect is similar to having invited guests get into a shouting match while staying over. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately for everyone involved, I simply cannot recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, you’d do much better with It’s Complicated or having seen that, waiting for When in Rome, Leap Year and Valentine’s Day, all of which are coming down the pike in the next few months.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty views of the Wyoming mountain country.

REASONS TO STAY: The script is decidedly unfunny, and so very predictable. The actors all look uncomfortable, confused and undirected. Adds nothing to contrived fish-out-of-water premise.

FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and sexual situations and a scene of smoking but otherwise harmless.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gracie Bea Lawrence, who plays “American Idol”-wannabe Lucy, is director Marc Lawrence’s daughter.

HOME OR THEATER: You could be forgiven for waiting until it comes out on free cable, although some of the vistas in Big Sky country are worth seeing on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: It’s Complicated