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The Jackal (1997)

July 12th, 2007 · 3 Comments

John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.

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In Moscow, Russian police led by Major Koslova (Diana Verona) raid a nightclub to arrest a young gangster wanted for murder. Tagging along is the deputy director of the FBI, Preston (Sidney Poitier). During the melee that ensues, Koslova shoots the gangster. In Helsinki, the gangster’s brother hires a super assassin with an American accent known only as The Jackal (Bruce Willis) to retaliate against an unknown target. His fee: $70 million.

Koslova’s comrades kidnap one of the gangster’s henchmen and discover that the director of the FBI has been targeted by the Jackal. The only person who can identify him is a Basque separatist (Mathilda May). The only person who knows where she would be is Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere), an IRA sniper serving time in a U.S. prison.

Mulqueen refuses to give up his ex-girlfriend, but announces that he’s met the Jackal. Preston promises to do his best to get Mulqueen freed if he helps them out. While bonding with Koslova, Mulqueen reveals that the Jackal wounded his girlfriend while she was pregnant with their child. So this is, like, personal.

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Meanwhile, the Jackal traffics between Montreal, Chicago and Washington, hiring a wiz kid (Jack Black) to customize a remote controlled cannon that can fire hundreds of 14.5mm shells. The wiz kid gets a bit too cocky with the assassin and in the only relatively exciting scene in the film, becomes moving target practice.

Adapted by Chuck Pfarrer – with uncredited work by producer Kevin JarreThe Jackal went into production under the title The Day of the Jackal, a remake of the well reviewed 1973 thriller based on a novel by Frederick Forsyth. The book and its film version were about a French nationalist sect that hires a professional assassin to kill Charles de Gaulle in 1963.

The disparity between the two thrillers led director Fred Zinneman to declare that Universal Pictures had “hijacked” the title of his film. He enlisted the support of Forsyth, concerned that the title of the remake would endanger his royalties down the line. Producers James Jacks and Sean Daniel gave in and shortened their title to The Jackal.

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Starring Edward Fox as the title assassin, and Michael Lonsdale as the French detective on his trail, the original The Day of the Jackal was far from thrilling – even by the metric of its day – but did have a touch of class to it. The remake is so lazy and insipid, and has so little to do with the original, it comes off as a purely transparent case of Universal trying to squeeze some coin out of its title catalog.

Forsyth’s novel might have been the inspiration for a sophisticated, modern day thriller about an assassination plot. This script has no aptitude for any of that. Director Michael Caton-Jones instead made a movie about a ridiculous cannon, plus silly disguises the Jackal likes to put on. Bruce Willis (in a role Liam Neeson turned down) is just too smug an actor to be taken seriously as a killer, while Gere isn’t any more credible as an Irish terrorist.

Diana Verona blows both men off the screen playing a badass cop; she doesn’t do much, but has a quiet intensity and brings something unique to this. Massive Attack was a baffling selection for the soundtrack, while an opening credit sequence that riffs on Se7en is also bizarrely out of place. There’s nothing remotely cutting edge about this story, and the problem is that no one told the filmmakers that.

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“Just do yourself a favor and watch the original because that one is so much better than this piece of shit,” says Slyder at EFilmCritic.

Jason Whyte at The Big Screen Cinema Guide says, “About as mind numbing as getting stuck in a car wash, The Jackal is a strong reminder about how screwed up Hollywood film is today.”

“Whether you like original action movies, or female empowerment, either way you will be disappointed,” writes Michael Phillips Jr. at goatdog’s movies. He gives it 2 goats out of 5.

Tags: Based on novel · Hitman · Interrogation · Shootout · Train · Woman in jeopardy

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Burbanked // Jul 12, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    I’ve never sat through this movie all the way through and in fact some of the plot points you include above were a surprise to me – but this is one of those movies that seems to pop up every other day on TNT or wherever and I find that it is, in its own non-unique, dullish way, oddly watchable. Maybe it’s because it really is so silly and couldn’t possibly be taken as seriously as it does, and for whatever reason that amuses me.

    It falls into my own personal category of Movies To Watch While I’m Unloading the Dishwasher But Will Turn Right Off the Moment a Better Opportunity Presents Itself Which Is More Or Less Always.

  • 2 matt // Jul 14, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I agree with Burbanked – this is purely a channel surfing movie. The one scene that’s stuck with me though is when Jack Black’s arm gets blown off. That was entertaining.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Jul 14, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Alan: I think you’re onto something with your Movies To Watch While Unloading The Dishwasher. I feel a retrospective coming on, with A Time To Kill and What Lies Beneath as two other possible entries.

    Matt: These types of movies work at 10 minute intervals, and it says something that the only scene in The Jackal I stick around for seems to be the Jack Black, target practice bit. Spall!

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