All international thrillers now come with a high price tag. Witness The Peacemaker (a smirking Clooney, a sweaty Kidman, crashing helicopters, written-off BMWs, lots of foreign locations), which eventually set Dreamworks SKG back a cool $50 million. But add another $10 million, more countries, a handful of better special effects and some bigger star names and you can walk away with The Jackal. Not that the film-makers are probably too worried. On its opening weekend in the United States it stomped in at the number one spot and seized back $15 million, a quarter of its whopping budget.
So what do you get for $60 million these days? Obviously, Richard Gere and Bruce Willis are likely to have netted a nice little pay cheque. Sidney Poitier can't be cheap either. And Willis's various hairstyles (he is a master of disguise, after all) must have cost extra - note the acid hippydrop-out look, the slicked-back Fifth Element cut, and the funky, gay icon, moustache boy. You can't knock the stars though. They all practically guarantee an "opening", as they say in Hollywood. And as you'd expect, both actors acquit themselves well - Richard Gere's Oirish accent isn't too jarring or unbelievable, while Willis casually adopts a new personality to accompany every stuck-on hairdo.
Neither of them, however, deliver the scene-stealing, boldly memorable performance that their star billing suggests. Instead, the best performances come from also-rans Poitier and Venora. They might not have made a big dent in the budget, but as the FBI honcho and Russkie agent respectively, these two more than dominate the scenes they appear in, giving commanding and thoroughly believable performances, despite wispy characters and a script that has all the rock-hard substance of a pink marshmallow on a stick.
Obviously, a large chunk of the film's budget has gone on the gratuitous globe-trotting and the violence. And it's here that questions have to be asked. Is there really any point filming on location if each scene still has to be flagged up with the place name? Let's face it, there's very little chance of assuming that The Jackal has wandered into France once you've seen a London bus, Big Ben and Leslie Phillips in a pub.
Admittedly, the wham-bam violence is spectacular - a man's arm gets blown off, someone's head gets cleaved in two - but it's all little more than icing on a stale cake. The intention is obviously to shock the audience out of noticing the plot holes, of which there are far too many. If The Jackal's such a slick assassin, why does he farm out the construction of his weapons to untrustworthy low-lifes? Why does he leave the plans for his super-rifle for the FBI (and even the lowly police) to find? Even the active part (à la The Rock) that Mulqueen plays in the ensuing investigation beggars belief, along with the dodgy political reasoning - the IRA have a moral reason for killing, while the Russians and The Jackal do not. Hmmm...
Still, there's a lot to enjoy in The Jackal, if you leave your brain at home. There are some stunning set pieces, surprising plot twists and the seat-squirming vision of Bruce Willis' Jackal snogging another man to further his dastardly plans. Forget this film's loose connection to the '73 classic The Day Of The Jackal, because it bears little or no resemblance to it. Instead, The Jackal is a mish-mash of '90s thrillers, a Boy's Own adventure with dressing up and bigger guns.