BY EDWIN JAHIEL
Q: Guess Who's Coming to Moscow?
A: I know. Sidney Poitier, who, in his 70s, looks great and is full of authority. He's the FBI's Deputy Director Carter Preston, who is managing (have the new Russians no pride?) raids against the post-Soviet Mafia.
Q: You mean Sicilian or Italian-American gangsters?
A: No, I mean post-Gorbachev Russians (alas, too true) who live in decadent, vulgar luxury, and whose savagery makes the original Mafiosi look like Quaker Oats.
Q: Is it possible for an American to command Russian officials?
A: I doubt it. Yet the movie invents a Politically and Feministically Correct adjunct to Poitier. She is Colonel Valentina Koslova, a brilliant, uniformed, gun-toting-and-shooting lady, a Scarface (wounded in action), and as played by Diane Venora, the best thing in the film.
Q: A Colonel of what?
A: Army Intlligence,I guess --but she is now with the MVD. Or so I heard from the very loud loudspeakers of the theater as they put out DTS sounds.
Q: What's DTS?
A: It must mean DeTeStable.
Q: What's MVD? Sounds like Music Video to me. Or a disease.
A: It stands for the Ministry for Internal Affairs . Not affairs of the heart --but in the line of various secret and political polices. Under the last Czars the secret services were called the Okhranka. With the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution the main secret police was the Cheka, run by Feliks Dzerzhinsky. A few years later it was reorganized as OGPU (State Political Administration) and led by the same man. In 1934 it became the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) which, during WWII, begat the MGB (not the car but the Ministry of State Security), which became the KGB in 1954. And. . .
Q: Hold it! Enough!
A: Sorry. I thought you might be interested. . . . To proceed. A ruthless gang boss whose brother was killed in an FBI-MVD raid, swears revenge, hires lone gun super-killer the Jackal to terminate with extreme prejudice a VVIP of the US Government. The fee is $70 million.
Q: Isn't this a lot of greenbacks?
A: Not when you compare it to what the Willises, Schwartzeneggers, Stallones and other plastic action puppets make per movie, or the cost of disaster flicks, it's not all that much. To resume, the Good Guys and Gals hear about this; Poitier recruits IRA terrorist Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere) by springing him from a murderous maximum security prison where the Irishman has been for eight years, and promising a safer jail later on.
Q: What's has an IRA operative got to do with the Jackal?
A. Truth to tell, this is as fabricated as everything else in the movie and as murky as most political debates. It gets eventually explained (sort of). Since the Jackal is a mysterious man of a thousand faces (disguises which a 9-year old could spot); since Declan has worked with him; since Declan has uncanny abilities to read the Jackal's mind; since he holds a grudge against him, and so on ad absurdum, Declan must become part of the Russian-US-Irish triumvirate of hunters.
Q: Quite a partnership. I bet you all three become friends, as they would in any hack movie.
A: Right you are. No sweat. The real problem is for Gere to keep up his mild Irish accent and add facial expressions -- about 4 or 5 throughout the film. Willis has just one, plus a couple in the last minutes. Poitier is limited by his role to about two Venora has several, plus a good accent.
Q: What next? I bet you that the climax is one of those "mano a mano" fights between Gere and Willis?
A: The developments jump from one absurdity to the next. You're right about the finale. But from the start no cliche goes unexploited. The film is a big yawn. Much of it is like an ad for minivans. Improbabilties and impossibliities of character,timing, plot, quick changes of clothes or uniforms, gadgetry, etc. are legion. About 720.
Q: How do you reach this figure?
A: The film proper lasts around 120 minutes (7,200 seconds). With something dumb and/or outrageous popping up every 10 seconds, we get 720.
Q: Is it that bad?
A: Yes, and worse yet for those who know the original The Day of the Jackal(1973), in which the killer was played with wonderful aplomb, presence and credibility by Edward Fox. The source book, by Frederick Forsyth, was a great thriller partly based on fact, the would-be assassination of France's General De Gaulle. The movie version was a beautifully constructed thriller made by a great director, Fred Zinnemann whose films include The Wave, The Search, The Men (Marlon Brando's debut), High Noon, The Member of theWedding, From Here to Eternity, A Hatful of Rain, A Man for All Season, Julia.
Q: You mean it's dumb to remake a near-classic?
A: I do, especially with such a dumb script too. Director Michael Caton-Jones (now 40) made a small splash with his first feature Scandal, on the British Profumo/Christine Keeler sex and politics affair. He then directed Memphis Belle, a docu-drama inspired by one of the greatest documentaries ever made (by William Wyler, in 1944). It was about the US airmen of the 8th Army Air Force, and their raids over Germany. Those magnificent young flyers, their guts, the horrible losses of lives, their talent and more made of them my personal heroes in a war that had so many. I confess that I cannot see this masterpiece (named after one plane) without tears swelling up. But Caton-Jones trivialized and Hollywoodized the subject.
Then he made the ho-hum comedy Doc Hollywood. His other feature, This Boy's Life, I couldn't bring myself to see. Now he repeats the remake mistake with The Jackal.