Here we are in Berlin and Belgrade and Lausanne, and there’s Pierce Brosnan running through the streets. We have Russians, secret interrogation chambers, and terrorists. And microfilm! No, wait, that can’t be right—despite the trappings of Cold War espionage, this is a 21st-century movie. So it’s not microfilm, but something downloaded onto a thumb drive, which is much less fun to say than “microfilm.”
The November Man is strong evidence that sometimes a genre needs no excuses. This is not a great movie, nor perhaps even a particularly good one, but as the above litany of component parts suggests, it’s a straight-up spy picture with distinct attractions. One of those is Brosnan, who makes a much better James Bond now than he did when he actually carried the license to kill. He plays Peter Devereaux, a retired secret agent much surprised when his former apprentice (Luke Bracey) and old boss (bullet-headed Bill Smitrovich) get caught up in a botched rescue mission. It’s all connected to a corrupt Russian politician and Chechen rebels, tied together with an enjoyably wild conspiracy theory. The mystery woman, because there must be one, is a social worker (Olga Kurylenko, recently seen twirling in the nonsense of To the Wonder); there’s also a stone-cold female assassin, played by gymnast Amila Terzimehic, who doesn’t seem to be very good at her job but certainly looks cool doing it. Brosnan does not spend time here bedding down with women young enough to be his progeny—and while somewhere Roger Moore is scowling, this discretion suits the movie’s wintry attitude.
The political intrigue distinguishes it from a Liam Neeson vehicle, even if the story line actually pulls a chapter from Taken in its late going. Hot-and-cold director Roger Donaldson (Thirteen Days) is able to keep things trundling along here, but he can’t disguise the mostly terrible dialogue. A few genuinely shocking moments notwithstanding (Devereaux is willing to get nasty when he needs to), your tolerance for November Man will rely almost entirely on a pre-existing fondness for spy movies. They are now sufficiently rare enough that this film’s very lack of novelty is an attribute—it’s neither better nor worse than the average spy flick, and those terms are agreeable to this fan of the genre. Opens Wed., Aug. 27 at Sundance and other Theaters. Rated R. 108 minutes.