Wednesday, November 19, 1997

The Jackal

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 1997 at 12:00 AM

How perplexing. One would think that with the world full of interesting little pockets of geopolitical skulduggery, makers of thrillers would have plenty of options for nasty characters doing nasty things. Alas, not so. Like lemmings over a cliff, producers have flocked to the Russian Mafia as the most inoffensive villains of the New World Disorder, trading on the tired irony that communism makes the best capitalists.

But that's not the least of it. No original premise, so why an original plot? The vaults have been raided for a remake of a fine thriller of 1973, The Day of the Jackal. In the original, adapted from the novel of the very droll Frederick Forsyth, a notorious killer is hired to do in Charles de Gaulle. Now we have an assassin again known only as the Jackal (Bruce Willis) hired to do in the First Lady as retribution for the FBI blowing into Moscow and killing the brother of a mafiya kingpin.

Since the plot lacks a certain freshness, the direction must pick up the slack with a good bit of flash and finesse as we're dragged around the world, watching the cat and mouse prepare for their rendezvous at the cheese. But Michael Caton-Jones has nothing to offer the viewer. Nor does the international cast which includes Sidney Poitier as Agent Preston, the mastermind of the hunt for the Jackal, and Richard Gere as sensitive has-been terrorist Declan Mulqueen, sprung from prison to assist in the hunt.

Then there is Bruce Willis, woefully miscast as the mystery man. One would like to give Willis the benefit of the doubt on this one. Typecast as a snarky, Joe Average hero, he understandably wanted to play the heavy. And, in a way, he does. Managing to ham it up in the Die Hard tradition, with a few less wisecracks, a few more knitted brows and a wider range of hairpieces, he is a big reason this film is the mess that it is.

What The Jackal lacks in sophistication it doesn't make up for with excitement. Which begs the question: Why remake a film if you've got nothing better to say nor a better way to say it?

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