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writing a screenplay for a thriller is hard .
harder than pouring concrete under the texas sun .
harder than building a bridge over troubled waters .
and incidentally , a whole heck of a lot harder than writing a movie review .
thrillers are all variations on a theme .
you have a smart , resourceful , and powerful bad guy , who has a goal he has to meet .
you have a noble and brave good guy , who has to protect the innocent , kill the bad guy , and not get killed himself in the process .
the trick of thriller writing is doing all of this in an interesting and novel manner .
this simple formula can lead to classic movies like north by northwest , high noon , or silence of the lambs , or big summer blockbusters like men in black , the fugitive , or air force one , or it can lead to utter dreck like masterminds , event horizon , kull the conqueror . . . .
is anyone else getting depressed here ?
point is , it's not enough to follow the formula .
you've got to throw in something extra , something good and new and better than the last version .
something to surprise and move all of us people who buy the tickets and the popcorn and the happy meals .
this is a hard thing to do , but it is absolutely necessary in every way .
without that something extra -- whether it's a great plot or a well-written screenplay , or great special effects or great locations or great casting or great performances or great big hungry dinosaurs -- the movie fails .
that's why the jackal , with all its starpower , with all its budget , with all its hype , gets a big fat f .
bruce willis is the bad guy , the jackal , a legendary killer for hire .
richard gere is the good guy , a former ira assassin with a vendetta against the jackal .
the jackal is trying to kill someone .
gere is trying to stop him .
will gere be able to stop the assassination in time and kill the jackal ?
( i'll give you three guesses , and the first two don't count . )
there are no surprises awaiting the audience in the jackal , no moment when you say to yourself , " i wonder what happens next ? "
the script for the jackal isn't ripped straight from today's headlines .
it's ripped off , straight from an episode of millennium .
throughout the movie , we learn what the jackal's plans are and how he intends to accomplish them .
no surprise .
the fun of a movie like this should come from richard gere figuring out what the jackal's plan is and developing a clever plan to foil the bad guy .
instead , we get two ( count 'em , two ) scenes where gere is sitting in an fbi conference room somewhere and instantly divines the jackal's plan just as if he's frank black ( or more likely , just as if he's been handed a copy of the script ) .
and we never get more than a superficial clue as to why gere has had this flash of insight .
it's like gere's character is psychic , but neither he nor the fbi ( or the screenwriters ) seem to know it .
and just like in millennium , the bad guy has an overwhelming need to go after the people the good guy cares about , whether or not they are important to what he's trying to do or not .
what's more , in the last half of the movie , the jackal , supposedly a super-smart professional terrorist who never makes a mistake , comes down with a major case of the stupids .
as for the performances . . .
bruce willis manages to get through the whole movie without a wisecrack , which is a major achievement , but not enough reason to see the movie .
his disguises are good , but not as good or as interesting as val kilmer's in the saint .
richard gere is made to talk the entire movie in an irish accent , which detracts from his otherwise lifeless and dull performance .
sidney poitier is probably the most disappointing element in a overwhelmingly disappointing movie -- not that his performance is bad or anything , it's not , but it is sad that hollywood won't use this talented actor in any part other than an fbi agent ( shoot to kill , sneakers ) .
writing a good plot and a good screenplay , like i said , is hard , but it can be done .
it wasn't done here .
it is our job as consumers to reward good screenplays and to denounce bad and uninteresting ones .
do not go see this movie .
you'll only encourage the producers to make more just like it .
instead , stay home and rent day of the jackal , or in the line of fire , or a fire safety video , for crying out loud .
anything other than the jackal , which lives up to its name by gnawing the dead bones of other , better movies .