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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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In Movies & TV Reviews

Pierce Brosnan and Olga Kurylenko star in "The November Man," now playing.

No reason to give thanks for "The November Man"


Like a distracted person into a glass door, we've smashed face-first into the desolate cinematic wasteland also known as early fall. The summer blockbuster season – a surprisingly strong one in terms of quality, if not box office – is officially dead, leaving audiences with a rather meager selection of options for the next several weeks.

Case in point: the new Pierce Brosnan spy vehicle "The November Man," the perfect film for moviegoers who only get out to see about one movie a year. They might find some surprises or thrills, but for everyone else, however, action thrillers don't usually come this stale and dull. The only surprise in store is that this dire spy game didn't go direct-to-video.

Brosnan stars as Peter Devereaux, a former top notch CIA operative now happily retired after his last mission went sour. However, his old boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) talks him into One Last Job, picking up an ex-flame who has potentially career-ruining dirt on Arkady Federov, the current favorite to take over the president's seat in Russia.

Things go predictably wrong, but luckily not before he's able to get a name of a young abused woman who has all the information on the Russian presidential candidate. Devereaux quickly picks up a sex crimes worker named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) who may know the whereabouts of this young woman, but the two soon becomes hunted, tracked by Devereaux's hotshot CIA protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey, a student at the Liam Hemsworth School of Bland Studliness), as well as a very Russian assassin cleaning house for Federov.

Will Devereaux and Alice find the missing girl in time? Who can they trust? And most importantly, why am I so incredibly bored? Oh, because there's nothing in "The November Man" audiences haven't seen at least 15 times before in other, better spy movies.

The script, adapted from a Bill Granger book by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek, hits on several tired clichés and conventions – from the teacher-student cat and mouse game to a family member being put into danger late in the game to merely the dialogue. "The November Man" is the kind of movie where it's not a matter of if, but when the characters wind up at a park where chess is the game of choice (I wonder if that's a metaphor for something).

There's simply nothing new or interesting to be found here, and while veteran director Roger Donaldson – who previously brought some grimy '70s grit to "The Bank Job," a surprisingly solid film that found some clever new material in a fairly generic set-up – films the action cleanly, that's little consolation for just how flavorless the rest of the film is. The story is pure formula, Bracey makes for a devastatingly uncharismatic co-lead ­– effectively flat-lining the key rivalry between Mason and Devereaux – and the film takes the audience on a tour of the least scenic parts of Belgrade imaginable.

The truly amazing part is that for all of the shopworn, borrowed clichés on display, "The November Man" is surprisingly confusing – like a student who cheated off a neighbor's test but mixed up all of the words.

The logic problems start early when an op requires Devereaux to take the place of a politician under threat – in broad daylight, looking a whole lot like somebody who isn't said politician. As the film continues to pick up subplots, twists and characters like a dreary game of Katamari Damacy, the story only becomes more convoluted, and the characters' behavior becomes only more nonsensical.

Mason decides to go on dates in the middle of a very personal, dangerous mission. Characters seem to immediately jump from location to location erratically. For seemingly no reason and completely out of character, Alice decides to play spy too, dressing up as a prostitute to kill Federov herself. A twist is revealed to Mason, who proceeds to seemingly do nothing about it until the very last moment. All the while, the Russian assassin seems utterly superfluous to anything going on (then again, most of the plot seems superfluous).

"The November Man" only escalates in silliness as it goes along, which is probably for the best since most viewers will have checked out of the pedestrian thriller. The plot irresponsibly twists and turns like an over-caffeinated yoga newcomer, and while that unpredictability can be mildly exciting at first, there's little here that comes together in effective or entertaining fashion. By the midway point, I had lost track of what everyone's actual missions, motives or goals were; by the end, I didn't even care. There's no apathy worse than confused apathy.

The movie's lone spark comes from The November Man himself: Brosnan, who at least seems to be having a little bit of fun hopping back into the spy game. There's even one scene near the middle of the film where Devereaux holds Mason's cute next-door neighbor/potential girlfriend hostage – eventually even cutting her femoral artery just to prove a point – and Brosnan becomes something brand new: menacing. He reveals the deranged, vicious and vaguely drunken killer that lies just underneath the debonair veneer of a character like James Bond.

It's a brief, almost invigorating moment of unpredictability and breaking from the norm, that our supposed hero might actually be a psychopath. But in the end, Devereaux is really supposed to be the good guy, and since that scene and its implications go pretty much ignored (the woman is never heard from again), it feels like just a random bite of violent cruelty – many of which, including a scene of aggressive sexism played for laughs and a first person sexual assault, directed toward women – bitterly sticking out in an otherwise tasteless dish.

It all adds up to a movie destined to be found lazily scrolling around on Netflix Instant on a rainy Saturday night, started but never finished.



Theaters and showtimes for The November Man
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Talkbacks

Photodavie | Sept. 2, 2014 at 2:26 p.m. (report)

I like your closing comment. I feel that more and more movies are being made fast and cheap with the seeming desire to make a few bucks in the theatre and then get a Netflix payout. Instead of straight to rental, it's almost straight to Netflix. I also think if you stream something with your $7/month fee, most people are more forgiving of it's quality as well. We are definitely entering a different time for movie making.

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