- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

"The Tailor of Panama" missed a Christmas opening date, and now one can see why: It would have been more embarrassing for an ostensible prestige picture to flop during a peak season.
As a belated arrival, having aroused suspicion that it might be damaged goods, "Tailor" induces a mixture of regret and resignation at the evident erosion of skills in its principal collaborators, novelist John le Carre and producer-director John Boorman, who must share the rap for this dismal adaptation.
Published five years ago, the novel was in the nature of a played-out caprice, suggesting that Mr. le Carre may need the Cold War to give his spy fables adequate urgency and gravity more than the former national and political rivals need each other as justifications for portentous, world-historical competition.
"Tailor" deliberately recalls certain aspects of Graham Greenes "Our Man in Havana," memorably filmed by Carol Reed with the authors collaboration in 1959. The melancholy vacuum cleaner salesman, Jim Wormold, played by Alec Guinness, importuned to become an espionage agent by an officious British spy master called Hawthorne, played by Noel Coward, becomes the tailor Harry Pendel, played by Geoffrey Rush.
This reincarnation of Wormold is more or less blackmailed into amateur espionage by a professional in disgrace, Andy Osnard, a lecherous wastrel played by Pierce Brosnan.
Wormold made up sources and information to satisfy his deluded recruiter.
Unfortunately, some of this bogus material alarms authorities in the Batista regime, resulting in mortal consequences.
Nevertheless, "Our Man in Havana" remained essentially a comic thriller and allowed its compromised protagonist an escape route from prolonged calamity or remorse.
"The Tailor of Panama" follows essentially the same plot outline but permits itself far more agonizing about the dire effects when Pendel fabricates stuff to appease Osnard. Mr. le Carre tries to up the political-satirical ante by pretending the U.S. government is hoodwinked into an invasion of Panama by lending credence to Osnards reports.
He never finesses the objection that Osnard seems to be running a transparent scam from the outset. Spreading around the contempt for Anglo-American policy-making, "Tailor" envisions Osnards superior in the Secret Service and the British ambassador in Panama City as craven collaborators in a dangerous hoax.
With one poorly contrived exaggeration and miscalculation after another, "Tailor" degenerates into a conspiratorial shambles once were obliged to believe that Pendels expedient fabrications and Osnards devious manipulation of them could mushroom into a genuine political crisis.
Set in Panama in 1999, the movie helps discredit its plot by fluctuating between archly cynical and shamelessly mawkish tones. Once the plot gets overheated, the continuity falls apart like a defective jalopy.
Characters are mislaid or misdirected all over the place. Barging in and out on desperately half-baked pretexts, they suggest a swarm of one-armed paper hangers and leave the paper conspicuously unglued and drooping.
While Mr. Boorman habitually loses his place, the movie begins to resemble some outmoded wreck.
Its as if you blundered into a top-heavy, absent-minded Hollywood dud of middle or late 1960s vintage.
Incongruously, that was about the time John Boorman was emerging as a freshly distinctive, arresting stylist in pictures such as "Having a Wild Weekend" and "Point Blank."
The introductory scenes suggest that Pendel might be an amusing opportunity for Mr. Rush, allowing him to play an Alec Guinness sort of character while borrowing Noel Coward sort of personality traits.
Unfortunately, Pendel becomes a disillusioning blend of servile sophisticate and softhearted martyr.
I suppose its understandable that Mr. Brosnan would welcome an opportunity to mess with his James Bond identity by impersonating a smugly wretched counterpart.
Given the fact that his Bond tenure achieved a stunning peak of snazziness in "The World Is Not Enough," the timing of this debunking exercise seems a bit daft.
The fact that "Tailor" is likely to drop off the cinematic earth leaving few traces should protect Mr. Brosnan from paying a price for fouling the nest or mocking the franchise.

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