Published November 1, 1997
The Jackal, directed by Michael Caton-Jones, is a formula blockbuster and a complete artistic void. The only interesting thing about it to me was the chance it afforded to spot the trends as to what ingredients go into the formula this year. For example, the macho man who has an on-screen homosexual kiss looks as if it may become a kind of cinematic rite of passage since Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck showed ’em how in In and Out. Here Bruce Willis, a professional hit man, plants one on a fellow patron of a gay bar where he has sought cover. The kiss is itself just part of his cover, however, which may get him into trouble with the “gay” lobby. The idea is that Willis’s “Jackal,” like Frederick Forsyth’s original, is supposed to be a master of disguise. How odd it is then that Willis, who is not a wooden or one-dimensional actor when he chooses not to be, plays all his disguises with exactly the same pursed lip smirk that is his besetting sin. I guess he thinks it looks cold and ruthless. But a child could see through the alleged disguises.
Another sign of the times is IRA chic (that’s Irish Republican Army, not Individual Retirement Account). Richard Gere appears here as the alleged IRA “sharpshooter” Declan Mulqueen with an Irish accent as hokey as Bruce Willis’s disguises. Even Brad Pitt, in The Devil’s Own, managed to sound almost like a real Irishman. What? Can’t Gere afford Pitt’s dialect coach? Declan, who is careful to specify that he is not one of the kind of IRA men who blow people up, is so romantic a hero that he not only saves the day against the Jackal but takes over the direction of FBI operations (another movie fashion: the FBI are the biggest bunch of incompetents who ever shouldered a holster) which result in the saving of the First Lady from the Jackal’s assassination attempt. But he doesn’t have to kiss a man on screen.
And then there is Tough Gal chic. Wherever the movie bullets are flying these days and the macho men, having given over kissing each other, are at last getting down to the fighting, you always find a woman or two like Diane Venora as Major Valentina Koslova, Russian mafia-buster (as opposed to bustier) now teamed up with the FBI—a woman who, says Sidney Poitier (the movie’s one sympathetic Fed) single-handedly “ends the debate on women in combat.” Guess which side she ends it on? Here there’s another gal too, Isabella (Mathilda May), a similarly noble Basque separatist who is Declan’s former lover and now a suburban housewife. These two lovable terrorists have a common grudge against the Jackal because he once caught them in a trap and shot Isabella when she was pregnant with Declan’s child. Only the child was killed. Do you think these two will meet in a final showdown with the Jackal? And what do you think will happen if they do?
But for all the fashionable elements on display in this movie—which also include an assortment of ugly, ruthless and very rich thugs purporting to belong to the Russian mafia, a gleaming, computer-controlled machine gun grotesquely overqualified for its evil purpose, and the real-life Larry King interviewing the fictional First Lady—there is one very unfashionable bit. This comes as the Jackal tells one of his many victims before she dies to “Tell Declan he can’t protect his women.” Golly! Not only a murderer but a male chauvinist as well! But instead of having the dying woman leap up and knock the man down with a couple of well-placed karate kicks— “Who says we need protecting” ? she could shout; or “Who says we’re his?”—she merely expires, leaving the unfashionably gallant Declan to his anguish over the taunt. Likewise, Declan doesn’t bolt when let out of jail to help catch the Jackal because he gave his word.
Such chivalry is clearly not only out-of-fashion but desperately old-fashioned. You’d think that it could get such a cutting edge spectacle as this is into a lot of trouble. But the one good thing about this otherwise wholly lamentable picture is that showing women being protected and men keeping their word doesn’t seem to have damaged it at the box office.