In 2004 Pixar brought viewers the middle-aged super-hero in their hit animated film, The Incredibles. Now the Weinstein Company brings a James Bond-style spy (or an over-the-hill, alcoholic version thereof) to the silver screen in The Matador. To its credit, TWC has released a string of strong, impressive films in its first year of operation, such as Transamerica and Mrs. Henderson Presents. It has also served up the potboiler thriller Derailed. TWC manages to mangle not one, but two genres with The Matador.
Pierce Brosnan co-stars as Julian Noble, a mercenary high-stakes assassin who works for the highest bidder, and does not, as he dismisses with a scoffing laugh, do any poorly paying government "gigs." While on assignment in Mexico City, and out of the blue, Noble finds himself striking up a bar room conversation with American businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) who is himself desperately trying to close a deal and save his own badly damaged career. What ensues is a bit of mangled genre splicing – a tongue-in-cheek study of the old pro who knows he is losing his touch mixed with some rather middle-brow Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis style comedy. The overall effect is a kind of Jurassic Park for adults—the viewer is drawn in through Greg Kinnear’s Danny, a winsome, "ah shucks I don’t really want to be a hard ass corporate suit" suburban next door neighbor type eager for the lark of learning the ropes from Julian. "Just consider me the best cocktail party story you ever met," Noble quips. In the process they become thick as thieves, and sparkle in much the same way as the hustling duo Steve Martin and Michael Caine did in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Times and mores have changed since Brosnan’s 007 days. The Matador tracks Noble’s alcoholic misadventures in numerous glamorous international hot spots, chasing beautiful young women, smoking and guzzling endless amounts of top shelf booze and wisecracking his way through every nearly-social encounter. Noble paints his toenails red, struts across hotel lobbies in nothing but brief black swim trunks, makes rude, unabashedly queer come-on comments to Danny just to mix things up, and soon finds himself all alone in the world, his self-confidence badly shaken. Brosnan’s disintegrating drunk, lampooning his James Bond movies, casts a dark and sobering, and sometimes awkward shadow on the film. And yet, in the way that Hollywood insists, (as embarrassingly romanticized in Leaving Las Vegas), Noble’s deleterious condition – the morning-after shakes, the crippling attacks of remorse, the auditory hallucinations, the growing sense of paranoia ("someone’s out to get him," and well, yes, a stellar level hit man probably would have lots of people wanting to see him dead), the blurred vision, the loss of resolution, the rapidly escalating spiral of physical and psychological deterioration – all are played for laughs, to make this maverick psychopath personally endearing.
The charm works eventually and completely on Danny Wright. Kinnear’s bland Colorado family man becomes Noble’s one and only friend. As Noble’s nervous breakdown renders him ever more vulnerable and child-like (though always dangerous), Wright tenderly nurses the bastard, coaxing him through one last job. Wright seeks to help Noble be able to strike death with a single blow again. Noble’s professional conceit is being a hit man is like being a matador — there is great honor in killing the bull with a single thrust of the sword. At heart lies the notion that Americans simply need to get over their queasiness about bull-fighting (and assassinations) in general.