We gave it a B+
”You do not have to be good,” wrote poet Mary Oliver in a 1986 verse. I sometimes wonder if Hollywood agents don’t have that poem ready to spring on actors who play heroes. You do not have to win the day, you leading men; you can play it venal, homicidal, detestable even. Bruce Willis is the latest star to go over to the dark side, in ”The Jackal,” director Michael Caton-Jones’ remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 ”The Day of the Jackal.” True, Willis has always seemed a jaded hero, but the assassin he plays here is truly unredeemable. You can’t blame him for thinking the role might goose his career in interesting directions, since the same thing worked for Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
As Lestat, the vampire antihero of Anne Rice’s ”Interview With the Vampire,” former ”Top Gun” fly-boy Cruise dispatches harlots with a dandy’s grin and waltzes with a corpse. It’s a showy turn, but that’s it. Cruise doesn’t have the charismatic kink. But he’s not remotely laughable. More impressively, he’s clearly plugged into ”Interview”’s not-so-secret gay-relationship tale, right down to Lestat’s fit when Louis (Brad Pitt) destroys the couple’s mansion. For a premiere pinup, this is risky business indeed.
John Travolta had little to lose when he played the gonzo Air Force major who swipes two nukes in ”Broken Arrow.” His turn in ”Pulp Fiction” as an ironically sympathetic hit man had just handed his career back to him labeled ”Royale With Cheese.” He was working with the finest action director, John Woo, and by playing a heavy he could let the world know that this comeback wasn’t going to be about no talkin’ babies. He plays Deakins as if he were the hero: snappy, sexy, in control, leaving nominal good guy Christian Slater choking on his dust.
In ”The Jackal,” both villain Willis and hero Richard Gere are left high and dry by a contrived script and Caton-Jones’ crass direction. The original ”Jackal” got chills out of a sequence where the hitman (Edward Fox) tests his bullets on a melon in a field; in the new film Willis misses the target, a pumpkin, but riddles a character with bullets and blows up his car. That’s progress. Willis needs more projects that are as smart as ”12 Monkeys” and ”Pulp Fiction.” Only then will his smirk look like anything more than Bogart Lite. For now, he should leave the villainy to actors who really could use the change. Matt Damon, up for playing an ex-Catholic arsonist with bad breath? You don’t have to be good. Jackal: C?; Interview: B?; Arrow: C+