11-18-97: The Jackal

This Week at the Movies

The Aisle Seat, by Andy Dursin


In theaters, Fox trots out the most lavish response to Disney’s hold on big-screen animation with ANASTASIA, which has received mostly positive responses (it opened in NY last week), and does boast a solid song score from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Also new is Clint Eastwood’s MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL and New Line’s MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. (This last sentence will perhaps be the only time both films will be mentioned in the same breath!)

In any event, I hope this turns out to be a better crop of releases than last week, where Bill Murray apparently continued his downward career spiral with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (reviewed by the majority as one of the year’s worst films), and Bruce Willis and Richard Gere shot blanks in their new movie. Speaking of which….


THE JACKAL (*1/2): I’m not one of those “why do they bother with remakes?” people, but I must admit this pedestrian and thoroughly unexciting retread of Fred Zinneman’s 1973 film (and Frederic Forysth’s here-uncredited novel) “Day of the Jackal” is almost reason enough to join the other side.

You can’t fault the cast, however–Bruce Willis is convincing as the mean-spirited Jackal, an assassin for hire out to take down our acting director of the FBI. (Gee, excited yet? Think they could have taken out a target more people would care about–say Arnold Schwarzenegger?) Richard Gere is also convincing as the semi-IRA member freed from maximum security prison out to help FBI Special Agent Sidney Poitier (excellent) and Russian agent Diane Verona (quite good) in nabbing the elusive Jackal before it’s too late.

Unfortunately, while the cast does all it can, it isn’t anywhere near enough–it’s hard to imagine that such a fool- proof premise could be so thoroughly botched, but somehow screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer (DARKMAN) and director Michael Caton-Jones (DOC HOLLYWOOD) have found a way. This is one of those movies you can watch at home on tape and literally fast-forward through, lip-synching the dialogue yourself, without missing anything, because NOTHING–I repeat–NOTHING happens in this film. There are no action set-pieces, nothing heart-pounding in the way of excitement, just a lot of endless establishing shots of various cities (with their names super-imposed at the bottom), Willis driving around in a car or boat, and Gere talking to Poitier in a conference room about what to do next. When the movie tries getting its act in gear for the would-be exciting finish, the filmmakers throw in a twist that comes so far out of left field that whatever suspense has been built up (not much) is completely deflated. Coupled with obvious last-minute reshoots (Gere looks as convincing on a building rooftop as Raymond Burr did watching Godzilla storm through Tokyo) and even shoddier special effects work, this is one finale that had the audience I screened the movie with giggling at its amazing ineptness. Ditto for the SEVEN-inspired opening montage, which has nothing to do with the style of the film itself.

Needless to say, THE JACKAL is the season’s first serious turkey, and also a frustrating movie to sit through because it’s possible that another director (think Clint Eastwood, John Woo, even Richard Donner) could have done more with even this by-the-numbers script, potentially turning it into an efficient genre thriller. As it is, it’s a total misfire, and one of the year’s most disappointing big-studio productions to date. [R, 124 mins.]


MEN IN BLACK (**): I wanted to like this movie, so much so that I perhaps gave it a little more leeway than it possibly deserved. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones make for an engaging team in this elaborate sci-fi spoof from Barry Sonnenfeld, but alas, this isn’t GHOSTBUSTERS meets THE X-FILES, as much as it attempts to be. Vincent D’Onofrio, the small town farmer turned resident alien, provides the menace to Will and Tommy Lee’s Top Secret Government agents out to rid the world from alien slime, but one of the main problems with the film is that it never makes up its mind whether to make D’Onofrio a real villain or treat him as comic relief. The end result from Sonnenfeld’s indecision is that the movie, while boasting a couple of clever set-pieces (mainly in its opening third), lacks any sort of dramatic bite–when the climax arrives, you’re stuck thinking, “THIS is the end?” Absence of character development also doesn’t aid the film with its surprisingly soft finish, leaving the whole project as a vapid summer “blockbuster” that was insanely overrated by some critics when it opened (four stars, USA Today?). On the small screen, it should provide a decent night’s entertainment, but it could have been–and should have been–a whole lot better. [PG-13, 98 mins.]

ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION (**1/2): Mira Sorvino, Lisa Kudrow, and Janeane Garafolo supply a large quotient of laughs in this piece of comedic fluff, which gets by in the end due to its highly enjoyable performances. As a pair of L.A. airheads who head back home to Stagebrush High in Tucson for their high-school reunion, Kudrow and Sorvino are delightfully ditzy, perfectly capturing the essence of bubble-headed feminism. They’re complimented by an uneven script from Robin Schiff, which incorporates such sitcom-ish elements as cutaway flashbacks and a prolonged dream sequence into its brew of high–and low–minded comedy. Still, Sorvino and Kudrow put this one over the top with their perfect sense of comic timing, while Garafolo is a blast as one of their obnoxious, now highly successful, classmates. [R, 96 mins.]

ADDICTED TO LOVE (**): A true oddball of a movie, with Matthew Broderick and a punked-out Meg Ryan attempting to exact revenge on their former lovers, Kelly Preston and Tcheky Karyo, respectively. Actor Griffin Dunne makes his directorial debut with this simply bizarre romantic comedy, which strains to be “dark” and “different” but, in reality, only ends up becoming a less amusing, R-rated variation on a ’60s Blake Edwards farce. Rachel Portman’s score attempts to add a touch of whimsy to the highly unbelievable farce at-hand, but the picture’s tone is so far removed from any sort of reality that it, too, comes across as heavy-handed in a few scenes. Broderick is fine, but Ryan is all wrong as a hard-to-like character–would you leave Kelly Preston for her? [R]

THE WAR AT HOME (**): Most likely because he agreed to appear in the third MIGHTY DUCKS movie, Emilio Estevez got to step into the director’s chair again for this competent but unremarkable drama, scripted by James Duff from his stage play “Homefront.” Of course, Estevez makes things easier by directing his dad, Martin Sheen, and his own favorite actor–himself–in this set-bound character piece about a promising young high-schooler whose life is forever shattered by Vietnam, and the inevitable conflicts that arise between he and his family when he comes home from the war. The dramatic situations are right out of every other Vietnam movie you’ve seen before, and the lack of originality on every front hampers Estevez’s sincere attempt at crafting a thoughtful ensemble piece. However, the cast tries hard–even though Kimberly Williams looks a little old as Estevez’s sister, Kathy Bates is unsurprisingly superb as the mother, crafting a well-drawn personage out of Duff’s cliched screenplay. On the male side, Sheen and Estevez are adequate, though both fall victim to overacting late in the movie–a little restraint, along the lines of Basil Poledouris’s eloquent score, would have helped immeasurably. [R, 123 mins.]