A secret agents-gone-wild thriller in a half-hearted search for thrills, a last-week-of-summer lamb to the box office slaughter, a spy vs. spy joint that neglects to include anything resembling a satisfying whomp with a giant mallet, November Man promises audiences exactly two pleasures: air conditioning and a Pierce Brosnan who doesn’t sing.
He does, however, give it his best Liam Neeson. It’s a bit of a contest now, among older, male movie citizens, to see who can rebrand themselves as the next unstoppable (and more importantly bankable) killing machine, and Brosnan has the Bond cred to pull it off if he can find the right film to do it in. This is not that film.
Brosnan is Peter Devereaux, ex-CIA in Swiss seclusion, brought out into the cold to protect a woman (Olga Kurylenko) with information about war crimes. This assignment puts him in direct conflict with his former protégé, David Mason (Luke Bracey), who long ago botched an assignment, earned his mentor’s disapproval and still has a case of the butthurts about it. Now he’s on the hunt to take Devereaux out and he’s fairly eager to get the job done.
Probably plotting a slow burn, director Roger Donaldson (The Bank Job) and screenwriters Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, adapting Bill Granger’s novel, There Are No Spies, instead have delivered a drama about daddy issues. With some guns.
The question of Brosnan out-killing his would-be assassins is never on the table. There are no surprises here. But questions do pop up, however unintentionally, such as: were exciting action sequences shot and then discarded when they proved to be too much fun? Why is the film’s most aggressive character, an athletic assassin with a swift, brutal manner (Amila Terzimehic), written as an empty shell with less personality than a Terminator robot? Why does the one decent fight, a tussle resulting in a character taking a shovel to the face, involve people other than Brosnan? Was it necessary to repeatedly put the one competent female agent (Caterina Scorsone) in her place by having a male superior refer to her as "Tits?" And why are all the other female characters plot devices to be kidnapped, raped -- a word the script is freakishly shy about using, preferring the gentler "abuse" and "assault" -- slashed, or shot in the face?
Why are characters introduced and then left to wither in the audience’s imagination? That New York Times journalist (Patrick Kennedy) who’s on the soon-to-blow-wide-open case, what’s his story? Is there a mole somewhere? Do we know why that person is a mole? Devereaux has a daughter (Tara Jevrosimovic) we’ve never seen? Will she be in danger as soon as the movie needs something to do with itself? And why is the camera spinning around in the service of people walking from one room to the next? Answer to that last one: There’s nothing else going on.
Here's how to enjoy Pierce Brosnan as a spy: watch Goldeneye. Or, if you're pressed for time, just check out the internet clip of Jimmy Fallon playing the Goldeneye video game against Brosnan -- and winning. Takes about three minutes. Then you can get on with the end of your summer.