If the preview for director Roger Donaldson’s “The November Man” made you feel like it was going to be a lazy R-rated James Bond experience, the movie itself does little to suggest otherwise. With Pierce Brosnan in the lead as a scorned special agent with a quick trigger finger, “The November Man” shows a little bit of promise before ultimately melting into an incomprehensible mess and never looking back.
Here’s a movie in which bullets whiz by to hit all of the people the plot doesn’t really need, leading audiences from one uninspired shootout to the next without ever finding a reason to care about the characters. Though Brosnan is suited well enough for the role to avoid a disaster, “The November Man” is a thriller about as forgettable as they come.
Following in the tradition of countless other action-thrillers, this is a story just about everyone has heard before. With Peter Devereaux (Brosnan) as the focal point, “The November Man” doesn’t waste much time in trying to setup the main character, instead allowing us to see him as a combination of just about every other tough guy that has come before him. A highly trained CIA agent, Devereaux’s name alone instills fear and respect in the hearts of everyone who utters it. But after a botched mission involving his partner Mason (Luke Bracey), Devereaux trades in the life of a CIA agent for the serene life in a small Swiss lake town. After a life of bullet fire, it’s a nice change-up.
Unfortunately, his retired life isn’t to last, as soon his former boss Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) comes to him with one last job for him to consider. Instead of just a random task, of course, this time it’s personal. While Devereaux was off living his new life, former contact Celia (Caterina Scorsone) got herself all mixed up with a Russian general in line to become the next president. Though Devereaux has warned his underling Mason not to get emotionally involved with anyone, Hanley knows that dangling Celia in front of Devereaux is the easiest way to get him into action. And so the old pro comes out of retirement with gun in hand, ready for a final mission that is sure to have a staggering body count.
Following a fairly standard thriller setup, “The November Man” doesn’t waste a great deal of time building the story, mainly because there are gunfights to get to. As a personal assistant to General Federov (Lazar Ristovski), Celia kicks the action into high gear once she obtains photos of Federov’s dirty former life, which involves a bit of murder and rape that would likely limit his chances of obtaining higher office. One might think that a villainous potential mastermind would be more careful with a batch of photos that can sink his potential presidency, but instead he just conveniently leaves them in his desk for Celia to find. Clearly he’s no deep philosopher.
From there, the movie hurdles forward with a series of different twists and turns, struggling to figure out which clichéd plot it’s going to develop the most. Part of the movie wants to be a cat-and-mouse game between Devereaux and his former protégé Mason, though this is only half-baked because of a subplot about the shadowy network of the CIA. The movie also has to make room for a troubled woman named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) as well as Alexa (Amila Terzimehic), a ruthless assassin who is cheaply thrown into the mix to escalate the violence. There’s also a tossed-in story about a little girl who may or may not be Devereaux’s daughter, which wins the prize for being the most underdeveloped and absurd of the major plot points. At least veteran character actor Bill Smitrovich provides a spark as a misogynistic CIA boss stuck in a different era, but he’s not given nearly enough screen time to make an impact.
Writers Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek also clearly want us to like both Devereaux and Mason, but they’re seen as so one-dimensional that the game they’re playing never develops the weight it’s intended to have. With Mason on Devereaux’s heels and the old veteran showing him a few moves, “The November Man” desperately wants to be cool, but the dialog is flimsy and obvious and the action feels like it’s on autopilot. It also doesn’t help that Mason is about the worst agent of all-time. When everything begins to hit the fan, Mason doesn’t even consider moving out of the apartment that Devereaux clearly knows about, instead merely crossing his fingers and hoping that Devereaux never shows up while he flirts with the girl across the hall. You don’t have to be in the CIA to know that’s not a recipe for success.
More than anything, however, “The November Man” never lives up to its mild ambitions of providing a relevant tough guy to root for, leaving us with a string of violent acts that feel decidedly gratuitous without the viable context. What we end up with is a third-rate Jason Bourne/James Bond hybrid with enough blood to make it rated R, though not enough action creativity to exist purely as an adrenaline rush. Much like he was at the end of his stint as Bond, Brosnan is handcuffed by unoriginal writing and tired material that eventually sinks the whole movie.