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'The Matador' a bleak spot for former Bond actor

It was during the making of this film that Pierce Brosnan found out he was being replaced as James Bond. Interestingly, Bond could easily have turned into Brosnan's character in "The Matador," Julian Noble, if Agent 007 had gone down the wrong path.

Noble is a professional assassin with more than his share of peccadilloes. His fashion sense is stuck in the '70s, he drinks too much and he prefers sex with women (and sometimes men) not of legal age. His biggest problem is his escalating mid-life crisis - pangs of consciousness calling into question his dishonorable profession, the true meaning of life, etc.

He's not a very likable guy, so we find it hard to feel sorry for him, which is exactly what writer/director Richard Shepard wanted us to feel. So, he crafted "The Matador" as a black comedy; that way, we can feel good laughing at Noble's downward spiral. The trouble is, the movie is neither very dark nor funny. There are times when it's moderately clever and introduces some interesting plot points, yet rarely does Shepard build on his own foundation.

"The Matador" is basically yet another mismatched-buddy affair, a genre that typically works only if both buddies are in the same line of work (usually criminals or cops). Noble's new friend is the bland-as-white-bread Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a corporate salesman he meets in Mexico.

After his latest hit, Noble heads for the bar, where Wright is commiserating over a lost sale. An already drunk Noble tries to make conversation, which starts out as light and incoherent and quickly turns abrasive and insulting. The next day, Noble makes amends by taking Wright to a bullfight, where they start the male bonding ritual in earnest. Once Wright finds out what Noble does for a living, his mood shifts to intense, yet guarded, fascination.

Instead of running with that setup, Shepard abandons it and jumps months ahead with a still inebriated Noble making an unannounced midnight visit to Wright's Denver home. Again, Shepard just lets the scene peter out without any kind of payoff.

The last act is the most ludicrous of all seeing as how both lead characters begin behaving in a manner that completely contradicts everything they've done thus far. It's not a character arc; it's a 180-degree about-face.

Both in tone, look, setting and level of downright bad storytelling, the movie is a virtual carbon copy of "The Mexican," starring Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and James Gandolfini. A sexually deviant hit man meets a couple south of the border and has a meltdown. If you found that movie the least bit entertaining, you'll appreciate the fractured narrative of "The Matador" more than the rest of us.

If you want to see Brosnan as a rakish, devil-may-care bad guy with his act together, try "The Thomas Crown Affair" or "After The Sunset," both available on DVD. (The Weinstein Company)