In retaliation against the killing of his brother,Terek Murad hires the faceless Jackal to assassinate the Director of the FBI. Finding no ofther way out, said Director and a Major of the Russian Military, who is also targeted, hire an IRA hitman to find and kill the Jackal.
There was evidently a remake loophole in Frederick Forsyth's rights contract for The Day Of The Jackal. This purports to be based solely on the screenplay of the 1973 Jackal movie, though that was a scrupulously faithful version of the best seller about an attempt to assassinate De Gaulle.
The new film retains the book's structure and quite a bit of its plot, but jettisons the real-life historical background in favour of a contemporary yarn about grudge-holding Russian Mafiosi. It's a shame Forsyth doesn't rate (or has refused) a screen credit, because most of the strengths of the film are down to him. The plot intercuts suspensefully between the master-of-disguise Jackal (Willis) as he sets up the score, and a messy alliance of compromised good guys - FBI bigwig Poitier, IRA rifleman Gere and KGB cutie Diane Venora - on a race against time to jar his aim.
It's a good job this works so well as a machine-made movie, because its grasp of political realities is nebulous. We're expected to sympathise with Gere and his Basque separatist sweetie (Mathilda May) because they're passionate believers in their causes, and despise the Jackal for being merely a professional killer, though it's hard to argue that in real life fanatics are less dangerous than mercenaries. And the vision of the American government is as squeaky-clean as any 1950s propaganda movie, with Poitier cast as an upright Yank surrounded by shifty foreigners.
The use of a safely fictional character as prime target makes it less fascinating than the icy original. The step away from reality takes the film almost into science fiction, with an improbably unwieldy hi-tech assassination machine, but Willis (in a series of guises that show off his versatility, even to the extent of snogging a man in a gay bar) keeps the Jackal on track. Gere, with the usual dodgy Hollywood Irish accent, is a bit of a plank, but there's a scene-stealing supporting performance from the underrated Venora, whose confrontation mid-picture with the villain is arguably more impressive than the final star-on-star chase through the Washington subway. It clips the bull rather than going dead centre, but still rates as a good shot.
It clips the bull rather than going dead centre, but still rates as a good shot.