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Uneven thriller bolstered by Pierce Brosnan

Gary Hotze | Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Seeing a film starring Pierce Brosnan as a hit man has certain expectations that come with it. But rest assured “The Matador,” directed and written by Richard Shephard, will meet none of them – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

While it fails at being a real thriller – as many of the previews suggested it would be – it does succeed, at least partially, as a satirical dark comedy. In the end, “The Matador” is an ironic buddy flick and comedy-drama. Ultimately, it’s really the story of the strange friendship that arises from a happenstance meeting in a Mexico City bar.

Brosnan and Greg Kinnear play the two unlikely associates. Julian Noble (Brosnan) is a far-from-noble hit man whose aging career is often marked with frequent intoxication and sexual engagements with prostitutes and young women. Danny Wright (Kinnear) is a morally straight-laced fellow who married his high-school sweetheart. At the film’s start, Danny has fallen into financial trouble and is trying to find a way out.

Each man finds himself in Mexico City in pursuit of career opportunities. For Julian, it’s a corporately motivated big hit from his handler, Mr. Randy (Phillip Baker Hall). For Danny, it’s a last-ditch effort to land a deal with a Mexican firm that will solve his financial troubles. Their chance meeting at first goes awry as a crassly drunken Julian makes a joke out of the situation that killed Danny’s son.

Complications arise in Danny’s deal, which leaves him stranded in the hotel a couple more days. This is enough time for Julian – suddenly lonely after he realizes it’s his birthday – to seek redemption and friendship. He takes Danny to the bullfights and confides in him with his unseemly occupation, dubbing himself a “facilitator of fatalities.” Julian must of course prove this to Danny, and it is only a matter of time before Julian asks Danny to help as partner of sorts. The ensuing interplay between the two men drives most of the narrative.

But the motion doesn’t last long. The story stalls quite often. While the exchanges between these two characters provide a lot of quirky dark comedy, towards the latter half of the film, scenes slowly grow more dialogue-heavy. The thriller aspect of the film never really takes hold. “The Matador” in no way seems to know where it is going, which kills the film’s momentum toward the end.

The performances by Brosnan and Hope Davis – as Danny’s devoted wife, Bean – keep the flawed movie from completely submerging before arriving at a disordered destination following a somewhat lackluster finale.

For this and its many other flaws, “The Matador” is a good but not great film. But it is easily Brosnan’s best performance to date. He strikes a note as the margarita-soaked and ever-aging hit man, in contrast to his drab performance in the lackluster “After the Sunset.”

And if nothing else, no one who has seen “The Matador” will ever view Brosnan, the former debonair James Bond, the same way again. He provides one of the few truly classic moments in the film – the sight of him as he prances through a busy hotel lobby, grasping a beer and clad only in a black Speedo and boots, is unforgettable.