Not even James Bond can weather "The November Man."
Pierce Brosnan, the fifth actor to play secret agent 007 in the movies, returns to the spy game in Roger Donaldson's confusing, silly thriller, based on "There Are No Spies," the double-o-seventh book in former Daily Herald columnist Bill Granger's Peter Devereaux espionage series.
"The November Man"★ ½
Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Other: A Relativity Media release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 108 minutes
Brosnan plays Devereaux, a retired CIA agent who fires off more spy movie clichés than bullets these days. We meet him in 2008 as he coaches a hotshot CIA candidate named David Mason (Luke Bracey), who looks upon Devereaux as a father figure.
They get along. Until Mason disregards Devereaux's orders and kills an innocent girl. That puts a real strain on their relationship.
But that's nothing compared to five years later, when Mason follows orders to kill Devereaux's ex-lover and mother of his daughter who apparently the CIA never knew about. Or did it?
Now Devereaux has gone rogue and the two are on opposite sides of the irony curtain as they go running around Moscow and other exotic locations re-creating John Woo action film clichés in excruciating slow motion. Their war of words is almost as lethal as their bullets.
"You're a blunt instrument at best!" Devereaux shouts, stealing one of M's greatest lines from the James Bond movies.
"Keep talking old man!" Mason replies, purloining a line from a zillion late show features.
The plot of "The November Man" involves a massive hunt for a young woman who knows some kind of secret about a Russian politician about to become his country's top leader. He's apparently hired the most flexible female assassin in the world (Amila Terzimehic) to kill anyone who might have personal dirt on him.
The last person who saw the missing woman turns out to be a relief agency employee named Alice Fournier. She's played by Olga Kurylenko, who's already had experience running for her life with a James Bond in "Quantum of Solace."
"The November Man" comes with plenty of instantly forgettable action sequences, a disappointment considering Donaldson's track record: "13 Days," "No Way Out," "Smash Palace" and "Dante's Peak." And others.
Donaldson's film contains some of the most perplexing espionage tactics ever devised for the silver screen. CIA agents freely race around Moscow brandishing guns because, hey, none of those Russian cops or KGB guys will notice them.
Instead of simply shooting a man seated next to him, Mason crashes his car into a barricade because the other guy doesn't have his seat belt fastened and will get catapulted through the windshield. Why did Mason risk injury and/or death for no reason? (And now he has to walk, too.)
Granted, good thrillers don't always have to make sense, but they can't induce laughter during the action sequences as "November Man" did twice at the screening.
Even if Devereaux's ambivalent character sends off contradictory vibes (he tells Alice that no one can hide forever, then later gives her a wad of cash and tells her to go hide) Brosnan's performance is a work of cool maturity and calm confidence, the sensible sort of seasoned spy his fussy, jumpy James Bond never was.
As "The November Man," Brosnan trades his license to kill for a license to chill.