A hitman and an ordinary schnook walk into a bar in Mexico and the result is a very funny dark comedy called “The Matador.”Pierce Brosnan is the former, a burned-out mob killer whose increasingly neurotic behavior has affected his job and begun to make him a liability among his employers. Greg Kinnear plays the later, a struggling Denver businessman whose career and marriage (to Hope Davis) are essentially riding on his closing a business deal in Mexico City. While drowning their sorrows in a hotel bar, Kinnear innocently asks Brosnan what he does for a living and incredulous, shocked and not a little intrigued by the answer he gets. (To prove it, Brosnan takes him on what may or may not be a intricately detailed dry run for his next job.) When they finally part, Kinnear goes home with a neat story to tell about the guy he met down south. For Brosnan, this is the first genuine human contact he has had with a person who is still breathing in too long a time and when he finds himself in real trouble, it is Kinnear’s snowy doorstep that he appears on one evening with an interesting proposal.
Although it sounds like a bit of high-concept goofiness, “The Matador” is a surprisingly strong debut for writer-director Richard Shepard because instead of relying on violence action and wild plot twists to supply the laughs, he has chosen to spend the majority of the time focusing on the oddball relationship between his two main characters and placing them in a story that develops in highly unanticipated ways. Luckily, his three central actors are equal to the task. As the ordinary guy, Kinnear is quite good at suggesting a character who is convincingly bland and friendly on the surface while still suggesting enough of an edge to make his interest the dark side feel convincing. Davis is also quite brilliant in the seemingly thankless role of the wife whose reaction to the career choice of her husband’s friend is unique.The best thing about “The Matador,” however, is Brosnan’s work, which may be the loosest and funniest turn of his entire career. Visibly relieved to be stretching the acting muscles that go into storage when he puts on the tux to play James Bond (as he did in the underrated “The Tailor of Panama”), he lets it all hang out (literally in one scene in which he drunkenly marches through a hotel lobby wearing only a Speedo and cowboy boots) in a performance that is alternately crudely hilarious and strangely touching. In fact, his work here suggests that he may be the first Bond actor since Sean Connery to go on to a significant post-007 career.