Throughout "The November Man," Pierce Brosnan's not-so-retired spy Peter Devereaux follows a familiar pattern of behavior:
He follows a trail of muddled clues, ends up in an action sequence, and then, when it's all over, he sits down for a drink.
He drinks to forget, to numb himself to the memories of all the terrible things he's seen and done.
As character development goes, there's not much to it, but over time it does create a kind of sympathy with the audience.
By the end of this incoherent, uninspired movie, every time he poured another, I wanted to join him.
"The November Man" is a movie made for forgetting. Plodding, bland, and listless, it's the kind of movie you flip by at midnight on cable four years after its theatrical release and wonder: Did I see that? What was it about? How does it end? And then you fall asleep.
Even in the theater, it's tempting to nod off. There are so many plot holes in the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek that it'll make just as much sense if you doze for a few minutes.
The story, such that it is, follows Mr. Brosnan's Devereaux several years after a mission gone bad. His trainee, Mason (Luke Bracey), had taken a shot and killed a little girl. Devereaux left the spy life to open a little waterfront caf, presumably because it offered nice views and ready access to booze, his only source of character development.
But he's called out of action for vague reasons, and quickly pushed into a drawn-out, spy-movie game of cat-and-mouse against his former agency and trainee.
There's a long-running conspiracy involving Eastern European geopolitical gobbledygook, an assortment of espionage bureaucrats (Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton), a deadly female assassin (Amila Terzimehic) who says almost nothing but has the uncanny ability to be just where the plot needs her to be at all times, and, of course, a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) at the center of it all.
Trying to follow the action is mostly pointless, and director Roger Donaldson doesn't make it any easier. His action scenes are staged with a kind of frenetic formlessness. Characters move from room to room, stairwell to basement, alley to building, but the connections between locations are never quite clear. It's as if the movie's editor was drinking along with Devereaux.
That's a shame, in part because Mr. Donaldson has shown a knack for this genre before. "No Way Out," his Pentagon-set political thriller starring Gene Hackman and Kevin Costner, is a minor classic of the genre. And even 2003's "The Recruit," with Al Pacino and Colin Farrell, was enjoyably ridiculous.
Not so with "The November Man."
Part of the problem with is that, aside from Mr. Brosnan, who continues to prove how dashing he looks in linen sportswear, the cast is rather lackluster. Ms. Kurylenko is beautiful enough but has all the personality of a thin and wispy houseplant. Mr. Bracey delivers a performance that would be at home on a teen soap opera, defined more by his wardrobe and hair than his acting.
A better title for "The November Man" would have been "The August Movie" because that's what this is: the sort of blander-than-bland cinematic misfire that Hollywood often drops into the end-of-summer doldrums.
It's a movie you'll want to forget as soon as it's over. The only good news is, you probably will.
TITLE: "The November Man"
CREDITS: Directed by Roger Donaldson; screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek
RATING: R for language, bloody shoot outs
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS