What happens when a businessman meets a hit man in a bar? If that sounds like the opening to a bad joke, there's more. The businessman, grieving over the death of his young son, could lose his wife if he doesn't close his latest deal. The hit man, burned out after years of killing, has lost his aim. Solving their problems is the point of The Matador, a fitfully amusing trifle that leans heavily on Pierce Brosnan's charm.
Brosnan plays hit man Julian Noble as a seedy lech with an outsized ego. After James Bond, Remington Steele and other upper-crust roles, he seems delighted to get a chance to play a vulgar lout. It's a shame that his part boils down to yet another hit man with existential angst and a heart of gold.
On assignment in Mexico City, he befriends Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a clueless businessman from Denver who will wind up needing a favor. What Noble sees in Wright is never exactly clear. Still, the two bond over such worn-out clichés as margaritas, cigars and bullfights, at least until Wright figures out what Noble does for a living. With second thoughts about his newfound friend, Wright returns to Denver, after which the film essentially twiddles its thumbs before Noble joins him there for the third act. As Wright's wife Bean (a sadly underused Hope Davis) watches, the two bond some more until Wright learns that it's time to repay the favor.
Director Richard Shepard, who also wrote the undernourished screenplay, spins out the film's two or three ideas as long as he can, but it becomes clear early on that he has nothing interesting to say about hit men, friendship, Mexico City, or any other of The Matador's ostensible themes. And does anyone still care about how lonely hit men are? Shepard dresses up the film with intertitles, flashbacks, flash-forwards, jump cuts, a garish set design, jangly lounge music, and anything else that can distract viewers from the vacuum at the center of his story. You'll be able to dream up a half-dozen better plot twists without half trying.
Brosnan, one of 13 credited producers, brings the only real energy to the film, even though he often seems to be congratulating himself for "taking a risk" by wearing loud shirts and stubble. Kinnear is game, but can't do much with a part that goes precisely nowhere. Get past the stunt casting, and The Matador has very little to offer, despite all the hubbub surrounding it.