After introducing the world to his coif in "Remington Steele," Pierce Brosnan took his turn as James Bond, and it must be sheer hell trying to come up with an encore. He was suave enough as 007, lacking only those final droplets of testosterone that Sean Connery brought to the role. But how to put Her Majesty's Secret Service behind him once and for all? Answer: The Matador, where he plays a hit man who's about as debonair as a Lithuanian drug dealer. Sporting a mustache that looks like some furry critter crawled up under his nose and died, Brosnan is Julian Noble, a "facilitator of fatalities" who's been at it so long he seems to have lost his mojo. It's not that he feels guilty or anything. And the money's still good. It just isn't fun anymore.
Enter Danny Wright, a four-eyed milquetoast played by Greg Kinnear. (When a movie character wears glasses, it means he doesn't have a mojo to lose...yet.) Julian and Danny meet over margaritas at a hotel bar in Mexico City, where both have gone on business. "Margaritas always taste better in Mexico," Danny says, jump-starting the conversation. "Margaritas and cock," Julian replies, and I'm not embarrassed to tell you that my jaw dropped into my lap when I heard that particular line of dialogue. The Matador, it suddenly seemed, was willing to do just about anything to get a rise out of us. And Julian might turn out to be a rather interesting sociopath. Earlier, he'd painted his toenails to match those of the woman asleep next to him. Who is this guy?
It turns out he's a garden-variety nut job in a comedy that's closer to The Whole Nine Yards than to Something Wild. And I don't think there was a failure of nerve on writer-director Richard Shepard's part. He just doesn't seem to have the directorial flair to put this lewd-and-rude material over. The early scenes, where Julian and Danny are working out the terms of their friendship ' Julian is drawn to Danny's stability, Danny to Julian's lack thereof ' have an odd-couple charm. But Shepard can't sustain the tone he's established; the movie seems less and less dangerous as it goes along. And Brosnan, despite nixing the vanity that's driven most of his performances, isn't quite the force of nature the script needs him to be. He's fun to watch, though, a former spy in the midst of a mid-life crisis, shaken and stirred.