Tell me if you heard this: a hit man and a failed businessman walk into a bar in Mexico City…. This is the beginning of writer-director Richard Shepard’s story about Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), a prolific but lonely assassin, and the bond that develops between him and Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) after their chance introduction in “The Matador.”
Laura's Review: B-
Danny Wright's (Greg Kinnear, 2005's "Bad News Bears") life has been on a downswing since the death of his son three years prior, but his life is about to encounter a strange twist of fate. During a trip to Mexico City in a last ditch attempt to make the deal that will secure his new business, Danny meets Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan, "Die Another Day," "After the Sunset") in the hotel bar. Julian persuades Danny to accompany him to a bullfight, where he not only admits to, but gives a demonstration of, his highly illegal profession. In the world of hit men, Julian is "The Matador." Writer/director Richard Shepard's ("Oxygen") darkened version of the classic buddy genre plays a little classier, a little more hip than it otherwise might have due to Pierce Brosnan's rascally embracement of poking holes in his own image and Hope Davis's sly comedic sense. Shepard uses some dubious logic to absolve his 'innocent' party, nice guy Danny, but he constructs a decent audience mislead and sure has a way with a sexual metaphor. We're introduced to Julian as a global hit man who spends his down time drinking and picking up women (and painting his toenails metallic purple) or drinking alone (wearing a giant sombrero on his birthday). Meanwhile Danny's on such a tragic streak that a tree falls through his kitchen as he's attempting to have a little goodbye nookie with his wife Bean (Davis). When the two cross paths in a Mexican hotel, Julian repels Danny several times with his boorishness, then finally wins him opening a door to a radically different, dangerous world, but when he attempts to help Danny out of his financial straits by offering him an assist on his next job, Danny is horrified once again. Then late that night, Julian receives a knock on his hotel room door. Fast forward to six months later. Julian has a serious career block. He's a burn out unable to complete his jobs and he shows up on Danny's door step at Christmas time to beg for his help because if Danny cannot complete his next hit, he will become the target. The film's final act follows the comedic suspense of the odd couple's trip to a Miami race track to save Julian's life and answer the question of just what happened that summer in Mexico City. Brosnan, looking seedier than we're used to seeing him, has a ball sending himself up, whether he's verbally sparring with an adolescent boy ('See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya; smell ya, shouldn't have to tell ya') or coming on to a gaggle of Catholic school girls ('I hate Catholic countries, all blushy blushy no f$&ky s$&ky'). The image of Brosnan traversing a hotel lobby in cowboy hat, cowboy boots and Speedos may become as indelible as his tux-clad 007. Kinnear is essentially a wide-eyed straight man and doesn't bring as much to the mix as supporting player Davis. She's so openly turned on by Julian's profession ('Is that a 38?' she flirts), she reflects a different light on Danny. It's Davis that makes us wonder what the ordinary shlameil is capable of. Shepard's screenplay contains some nice parallels. Julian 'grows up' as Danny reverts to golly gee wonder and Julian's initial social ineptness (he tells a smutty joke after Danny relates the woes which began with his son's death) is replaced by his mental breakdown, his inability to shoot an antisocial ineptness. The 'one thrust of the sword' needed in the bullring turns into a need to outrun one's opponent on the racetrack, but Shepard does fudge with Danny's morals at his conclusion and his doubling back to the film's mid point to demonstrate how we've been hoodwinked doesn't overcome that, and his titular metaphor doesn't hold. Production designer Robert Pearson ("Joy Ride") complements Shepard's corkscrew character development with Brosnan backdrop of bright primary colors (blues, yellows) which gradually soften to secondary (pinks, corals). "The Matador" doesn't break any new ground in the buddy genre, nor does it even rate as one of its best, but it's an amusing enough little comedy with enough offbeat hooks to make it stand out from the herd.