Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day of the Dog: Bruce Willis and Richard Gere in The Jackal (1997)


[In November of 1997, Universal released The Jackal. The Film Doctor was there.]

What's slow as molasses, stars Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, and should be on TV? This week's The Jackal. For a movie that takes itself ponderously seriously, I found myself giggling early on when a Russian mafia kingpin casually tomahawks one of his underlings in the head during a meeting and then proclaims "Gentlemen, I loved this man like a brother, but he failed me. Now imagine how I treat my enemy!" Anyway, this Russian honcho then hires the mysterious multi-identitied Bruce Willis to go out and kill someone major in America, and he'd better bloody well take his time too, for we still have two hours of movie to go.

So, Bruce steals a Canadian passport from some drunken schlep in the Helsinki airport, flies to Montreal, and, changing his hair style from scene to scene, he gradually puts together a fancy Gatling-or-something gun fully intended to wow people in the audience who get impressed by large ballistic gadgetry.

Meanwhile, back in the states, some Russian good guys, including a woman I'll call Major Slobotski (Diane Venore) with a fake burn scar on her face to signify B-movie toughness, team up with some FBI people, including a sadly wasted Sidney Poitier, to go after this jackal fellow. Since no one knows what he looks like, they go visit Richard Gere, who plays an Irish IRA man in prison, and he negotiates with them for awhile in the prison yard until Poitier agrees to let him tag along in the investigation.
The rest of the movie slides glacier-like toward a big deal political assassination scene straight out of The Manchurian Candidate.

To be fair, both Bruce Willis and Richard Gere acquit themselves pretty well given the rest of the film's resemblance to a Jackie Chan movie minus the karate action sequences (probably most of the budget went to cover the two stars' salaries). There's a lot of cutting to new locations where you can read where you are on the bottom of the screen in block letters for your idle amusement: Moscow, Chicago, Helsinki Airport, etc. Bruce looks very cool in most of his disguises, at one point looking eerily like Alan Dershowitz. Richard Gere fakes his Irish accent better than Brad Pitt did in The Devil's Own. Gere can look downright pixieish at times, surprising me by actually acting.

There are some set scenes that engage your attention in much the same way watching ants attack each other might--a hoodlum foams at the mouth and falls twitching to the ground after touching some poison cleverly planted by the jackal on the back of his mini-van, another man gets to run and scream and pant through the Canadian woods before getting shot into little pieces for Bruce's target practice. FBI agents fly in helicopters, in Air Force One-like jets (very posh), and in a totally superfluous large Marine carrier helicopter to help save the day.

It turns out that Bruce and Richard are mortal enemies ever since Bruce killed off Richard's unborn child, and so when they see each other for the first time on a boat dock in Chicago, slow motion footage and religious choir music kicks in, of all things, sending this already The Rock-like portentous hooey up into the ranks of spaghetti western opera.

In the movie seems like a Mannix episode, you could blame the fact that the filmmakers James Jacks and Sean Daniel adapted this idea from the 1973 thriller The Day of the Jackal (which I haven't seen but most undoubtably does not deserve this sort of half-amped living dead resurrection). The director Michael Caton-Jones approaches his material with the leisure of a Scheherazade delaying her execution by telling 1001 tales of Arabian nights.

To subject a "thriller" to this kind of Chinese water torture editing method left me bored and drained, but still giggling.

4 comments:

hokahey said...

Indeed this film is a load of "hooey." What a sad "remake" of the fabulous The Day of the Jackal, which you must see as soon as possible. The Day of the Jackal is my favorite assassination film; it's an intelligent, suspenseful film.

Did you notice that Jack Black plays one of the guys Willis tests his cannon on?

FilmDr said...

Yes, Jack Black loses an arm or something? I will look into The Day of the Jackal. Thanks for the recommendation.

James Walsh said...

I have seen this film and it has absolutely nothing on the original which was spellbinding. So many good performances in it starting with the Edward Fox who plays a very suave and tight role as the asassin and Cyril Cusack as the gunsmith. This film also woke me up to the great talents of Michel Lonsdale (later of Mr Klein with Alain Delon and I think Ronin with DeNero among many others) his performance was understated and spot on. A great film and one I never tire of watching. The book was also very good.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Mr. Walsh,

I just placed Day of the Jackal on my Netflix queue.