Dir: Richard Shepard. US.2005. 97 mins.
A crime comedy whichplays like Pulp Fiction-ultra-lite, The Matador is an unlikelyfit for the Sundance Film Festival where it world premiered on Saturday night.Broad, benign and cheerfully implausible, it is an independently financed filmwith mainstream sensibilities and distributors who have already committed willbe pleased with their purchase.
Chief among its pleasures isa deliciously uninhibited performance from Pierce Brosnan, whose post-Bondcareer looks promising if he continues to subvert his screen persona like this.
At time of writing, TheMatador hadn't yet scored a domestic distribution deal, but buyers werebuzzing, and Syndicate Films will mop up international sales once word is outthat the film plays well with audiences.
The Matador was financed by Bob Yari and Mark Gordon's Stratus FilmCompany - Yari also owns Syndicate - with Blockbuster's DEJ division and Germanmedia fund Equity Pictures. It's a good-looking production shot entirely inMexico City which plays itself as well as doubling for Denver, Tucson, Budapestand Manila!
It's a handsome independentproduction and feels like a studio picture, not least because of its impressivecast led by Brosnan and Greg Kinnear.
Writer/director Richard Shepard,whose credits include lower-budget indie thrillers Oxygen and Mercy,plays it for laughs rather than exploring the darker elements of its subjectmatter. But the film's good nature, however amoral, keeps it on course and itshould stand up well with other hitman comedies like Grosse Pointe Blankor The Big Hit, if not matching the box office of The Whole NineYards.
Brosnan plays Julian Noble,a grumpy assassin-for-hire with a bad dress sense and a coarse South Londonaccent who usually kills off businessmen as commissioned through middlemen bytheir rivals. Having blown up one such victim in Denver, he heads to MexicoCity to bump off another.
Kinnear plays Danny Wright,an entrepreneur whose new business is on the skids and whose future may depend onthe success of a pitch he and his partner (Scott) make in Mexico City. Dannyleaves behind his devoted wife Bean (Davis) in Denver.
Julian and Danny meet at ahotel bar and, while Danny waits for a couple of days for the outcome of hispitch meeting, the two become fast friends. At a bullfight, Julian reveals thathe is an assassin and, although Danny doesn't believe him at first, he is soonpersuaded after various demonstrations of his technique.
It soon becomes clear toDanny that he and his partner are unlikely to win the job and financial ruinlooms. We leave Mexico with a drunk Julian knocking on Danny's door crying tobe let in.
Six months later, Julian ison the rocks. Bungled jobs in Manila and Budapest have left him a nervous wreckand a death warrant is put out on him. His only option is to go to Danny, hisonly friend, to seek help.
The tone throughout the filmis wildly uneven, and it veers between polished comedy, dark satire, seriousaction thriller and comedy caper. There is also a gay streak in Julian'scharacter, hinted at but never explored, which would have added an edge to whatwill otherwise be perceived as a soft film.
But Brosnan keeps itwatchable. Whether parading around the hotel in his speedos, falling aboutdrunk or coming on to women, and Danny, like some past-it south Londonlothario, he lifts the film out of the ordinary.
Prod cos: Furst Films, Irish Dreamtime, Stratus FilmCompany, DEJ Productions in association with Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH.
Int'l sales: Syndicate Films.
Exec prods: Bob Yari, Mark Gordon, Adam Merims, Andreas Thiesmeyer,Josef Lautenschlager, Andy Reimer.
Prods: Pierce Brosnan, Beau St Clair, Sean Furst, Bryan Furst.
Scr: Richard Shepard.
DoP: David Tattersall.
Prod des: Rob Perason.
Ed: Carole Kravetz-Akyanian.
Mus: Rolfe Kent.
Main cast: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Phillip BakerHall, Dylan Baker, Adam Scott.