As Julian Noble, the craggy, burned-out alcoholic hit man in Richard Shepard’s The Matador, Pierce Brosnan trades James Bond’s handsome polish for a gonzo personality, hairy chest, and salt-and-pepper moustache. And forget the 007’s double entendres: here, Brosnan cracks incessantly about fucking Thai hookers and Catholic schoolgirls. The role, and the movie, is so forced and foul-mouthed that with it, Brosnan seems to shout, “I’m not Bond, dammit!” It’s true, The Matador is perfect fodder for “look what Pierce is doing now!” profiles in pop-culture rags. But once we get past his new-look brusqueness, we realize just how little lies beneath the surface.
The story begins in Mexico City, where Julian is on assignment from the shadowy agency that sends him round the globe “facilitating fatalities.” After a chance meeting in a hotel bar with milquetoast, down-on-his-luck salesman, Danny Wright, Julian finds what he’s always been lacking: a stable, regular friend and confidant. Danny, whose life revolves around his wife, Bean (the lovely Hope Davis, the movie’s saving grace), looks at Julian as an unsavory but magnetic character, living on the edge the way Danny never has. Natch, the odd couple begins a kooky, unlikely friendship.
All bombast and one-liners, The Matador is sure to garner praise from the lad-mag set. In other words, it’s breezily entertaining and sometimes uproariously funny. But look beneath the surface and you’ll find a rip off-laden template: a little Elmore Leonard here, a dollop of Tarantino there. Shepard masks his script’s emptiness with quips and loony scenarios taken straight from his more gifted inspirations: when Brosnan demonstrates the “gotta-pee theory” of assassination, Shepard achieves soulless-hipster overload. Perhaps the theme here — onscreen and off — has to do with veiling feelings of inadequacy with braggadocio.
Opens December 20