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NOVEMBER 17, 1997: 


Shortly before his death, veteran director Fred Zinneman, who made 1972's gripping "Day of the Jackal," made known his disdain for a remake and asked that Michael Caton-Jones' filming of a script by Chuck Farrer ("Hard Target," "Navy SEALs") be given a different title. After some reported dickering with Sony to lift a title from one of their works-in-progress, Universal wound up with "The Jackal." Zinneman's dead, so at least he never had to get further downwind from this labyrinth carved from Velveeta. Despite the advance press in which Bruce Willis crowed about his daring, daring, daring scene in which he kisses a man on the lips, I was anticipating a better movie than the production manager's nightmare of geographic sprawl that's on display. (And yes, the preview audience did howl when the two men kissed, much as they might at the sight of a cute little puppy being ripped in half on-camera.) Jumping from location to location, accompanied by stern titles -- "Moscow"; "Montreal"; "Helsinki"; "Helsinki Airport" -- "The Jackal" quickly becomes an outlandish smear of complication and crudeness. Willis plays yet another one of those just-too-damn-smart ubermonsters, those strenuously implausible yet all-powerful, all-knowing tricksters. Mostly he smirks, like Hudson Hawk without the harmonica. Richard Gere does passable work as Declan Mulqueen, an IRA terrorist brought onto an FBI team despite the fact he's a prison lifer and not to be trusted; and Sidney Poitier, as the FBI agent-in-charge, is strident, eye-rolling and outright awful. Still, Diane Venora has fun as a facially scarred Russian major, sleek and glossy as a seal, puffing cigs with silken relish. The credits by Imaginary Forces, the company behind the opening sequences of "Seven" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau," are hypnotic. Then, the movie. (Ray Pride)


Bill Murray has had a stake in some of the higher-caliber screwball concoctions out there -- pictures like "Ghostbusters" and "Groundhog Day" managed to be silly yet intelligent. This one's just silly. In a nod to the movie's ultimate destiny as a video rental, Murray plays a Blockbuster clerk from Des Moines. He shows up in London for a surprise visit to his snooty banker brother (raven-eyebrowed Peter Gallagher), who quickly shuffles him off to an interactive murder-mystery "experience." An easy mix-up makes him the unwitting center of some real spy intrigue, and therein lies the premise that propels a hearty dose of secret-agent gags and mod suspense music. Thinking it's all just play, unflappable Bill foils assassins and defuses the time-bomb, but the logic to the conspiracy is unclear. If someone had cared enough to thread a plot through the Defense Minister, the packet of letters, and the French maid's outfit, it could have been a slightly better movie, one that aspired to the heights of, say, "The Man With One Red Shoe." Joanne Whalley is on hand as a haggard stand-in for what could have been Liz Hurley. (Ellen Fox)


Directed and written by Mike Figgis. Despite a schematic shape, like three quite different European short films, the bittersweet romance of "One Night Stand" has a snappy vitality rare in contemporary movies. Each stage of its production reeks of leaving a great deal to fate, running with ideas and notions about how to construct a story, going against the great weapon that the moneymen wield against a filmmaker's whims, that great weapon called the perfectly crafted, "finished" script. "One Night Stand" began as a one-page treatment by the notorious Joe Eszterhas, for which New Line ponied up $4 million (pretty close to the entire budget of Figgis' award-winning "Leaving Las Vegas.") When given the chance to direct Eszterhas' concept, Figgis asked permission to work out his own draft, which he did. Here's the basic story: Max (Wesley Snipes), a director of commercials stranded without a hotel room in New York, has an affair with a stranger, Karen (Nastassja Kinski); he loves his family, including his wife, Mimi (Ming-na Wen), but the new woman stirs something in him. On a visit to New York a year later to again visit his estranged best friend, Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.), who is dying of AIDS, Max discovers that Karen is much closer to him that he ever knew -- she's married to Charlie's brother, Vernon (Kyle MacLachlan). What will become of these five confused, fashionable people? Figgis does several terrific things, among them, attempting to make each character's dilemma sympathetic. Figgis departed far enough from the original that Eszterhas bowed out, cash in hand, and allowed the writer-director to become the official author of "One Night Stand." An early draft I've read shares the same loose structure as the film, yet the witty, vibrant, fresh-sounding dialogue that fills the finished work is not yet in evidence. Hurrah for improvisation. (Ray Pride)

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