Courtesy Photo
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

Starring Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Sidney Poitier & Diane Venora

"The Jackal"

Opened: November 14, 1997 | Rated: R

The new Bruce Willis/Richard Gere movie called "The Jackal" says in the opening credits that it is based on 1973's "Day of the Jackal." But this bird is more like a vulture, picking at the cutting room floor remains of better assassination thrillers.

In fact, it apes "Patriot Games" and "In the Line of Fire" far more than it does it's credited inspiration and it's sorely lacking those films' exciting personal twists to the game of cat and mouse.

Here Willis plays a master-of-disguise high priced killer nicknamed The Jackal who has been hired by the Russian Mafia to kill the First Lady of the United States for no apparent reason.

The first half of the movie tries to pretend that it's the director if the FBI he's after, but his fee is $70 million, so who's going to buy that?

Willis dons half a dozen disguises, sometimes dressing up like David Lee Roth on laundry day and other times as a paunchy Richard Dreyfuss. He canvases the globe buying special high powered weapons and computer equipment so he can shoot the First Lady from a couple blocks away on a laptop computer.

He seduces a guy in a gay bar so he has a place to crash in Washington (yes, they kiss, so later Bruce has to kill him to retain his machismo).

Meanwhile an FBI deputy director, played by Sidney Poitier in an attempt to lend the film an air of respectability, has gotten wind of the hit and springs imprisoned IRA terrorist Richard Gere to help because Gere knows what The Jackal looks like.

Gere and Willis are supposed to have a history designed to add a vendetta element to the plot, but the rivalry seems to be between the actors rather than the characters. It's Willis' trademark tough and intense squint versus Gere's trademark sincere and intense blink. Gere also sports an inconsistent, unconvincing Irish accent.

The last 30 minutes boils down to the same old race to find the assassin before it's too late. We've seen this sequence probably 25 times in the last 10 years: Close-up of the target through the cross hairs of a weapon, cut to zoom shot of the killer, cut to heroes racing through crowds of people -- will they get there in time? Rinse, repeat. Yawn.

These stock endings invariably have some humongous loop hole, in this case it's the fact that the FBI apparently doesn't have the phone number for the Secret Service to call them and say "Hey, someone is about to assassinate the First Lady." Instead they have to rush across town in a helicopter trying to save her themselves. Poitier gets to dive on top of her as the bullets fly.

As if that's not enough, then we have to sit through a tedious chase though subway tunnels after Willis gets away. Still not tired of being predictable, following the chase is one of those tiresome showdowns with a female hostage in the arms of the bad guy. Naturally the local cops never show up, even though hundreds of people run screaming from the scene after shots are fired.

Oh, did I mention oft-used the scene in which the killer tests out his customized weapon on some unsuspecting hick in a field outside a small town?

"The Jackal" isn't completely awful, it's just on auto pilot, which is why so many easily remedied problems become gaping holes in the plot.

My favorite: The film opens in Moscow and it's winter. When Willis flies to Canada a day or two later, he complains about the hot summer weather.

The movie was directed by Michael Caton-Jones ("Doc Hollywood," "Rob Roy"). I think I'll send him a calendar for Christmas.

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