It's hard to overestimate the importance of casting. A miscast actor in a crucial role can single-handedly sink an otherwise-promising film like Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies, just as perfect casting can greatly elevate an otherwise-shaky project like The Matador. The Matador is brilliantly cast right down to the secondary supporting roles, played by the formidable likes of Dylan Baker and Philip Baker Hall, but it's the leads who really deliver: Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, and especially co-producer Pierce Brosnan, who takes The Tailor Of Panama's winning self-parody of his trademark James Bond role 10 times further. The seductive bedroom eyes are unmistakably Bond's, but the atrocious haircut and ill-advised 'stache, which collectively lower Brosnan's physical attractiveness a good 50 percent, seem to belong to the manager of a Midwestern sporting-goods store.
It's tempting to describe Brosnan's Matador role as Bond's evil twin, right down to the creepy facial hair, but he's more pathetic and unscrupulous than evil, a sketchy, unrepentant lech with a prostitution-based metaphor for every situation. With scary conviction, Brosnan throws himself into the flashy role of a drunken, whore-mongering professional assassin rapidly approaching a personal and professional low. While on assignment in Mexico, he strikes up a conversation at a bar with a soft, grief-stricken businessman, played with doughy, sad-eyed vulnerability by Kinnear. The two develop an unlikely friendship rooted in loneliness and mutual envy, and when Brosnan finally reaches rock bottom, he reaches out to Kinnear as his only friend in the world.
The Matador races giddily out of the gate, with bravura back-to-back setpieces involving an exploding car and a falling tree, a preponderance of racy, giddily profane dark comedy, and a breezy visual style that appropriately hearkens back to the campy James Bond knockoffs of the late '60s. But its momentum sags as it hits the halfway point, and individual scenes tend to drag on too long, contributing to the film's iffy pacing and all-around shapelessness. Still, even when The Matador drags, Brosnan and Kinnear lend it absolute conviction, creating a memorable friendship that's brashly comic on the surface and a little sad just below.