The Matador (15)

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Pierce Brosnan jumps from Bond to male-bonding in The Matador, a good-natured comedy thriller which doesn't try to erase all our memories of his 007 persona, but which, like The Tailor of Panama, takes those memories and leaves them vigorously shaken and stirred.

Brosnan plays the not-at-all noble Julian Noble. Like Bond, he travels the world, killing people for money, but unlike Bond he's a freelance "facilitator of fatalities", and, after years of jet-lagged shooting, boozing and sleeping around, he's a burnt-out case. One night in a hotel bar in Mexico City, he meets another businessman in a bad way.

Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) has had a run of awful luck, culminating in the death of his only child, and if he doesn't close the deal he's in town for, he's afraid his wife (Hope Davis) will divorce him. The two men share their troubles over margaritas and a bullfight, and when Julian admits to Danny what he does for a living, it does nothing to wither their budding friendship. The sensible, suburban Midwesterner is chuffed to meet a real, live assassin. Whether he'll be quite so chuffed when his new pal knocks on his door six months later is another matter.

The Matador is the middle-aged uncle of Grosse Point Blank's frazzled-hitman scenario, and like that film it's more about character than killing. Kinnear and Davis are agreeable as a couple that's ready for a little danger. ("Do you think he'll show me his gun," Danny's wife whispers after she's greeted their visitor.) But Brosnan is a genuine revelation, charging into the role with such bullish gusto that you actually become fond of the filthy-mouthed, homicidal bozo he's playing. And you have to respect his lack of vanity as he marches through a hotel lobby wearing only cowboy boots, swimming trunks, sunglasses and a moustache.

As well as indicating that Brosnan might have the beyond-Bond acting career that's been had by none of his predecessors, bar Sean Connery, The Matador bodes well for his future as a producer, too. The film was written by its director, Richard Shepard, as a low-budget indie flick until Brosnan's production company got hold of it and upped the ante.

It's still a rough-and-ready little yarn - a "cocktail-party anecdote", to use Julian's phrase - that must have cost less than the cufflinks in the average Bond film. But in its seat-of-the-pants way, it has as much energy as the average Bond film, too.