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(2001) (Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush) (R)

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Drama: Spurred on by a banished British spy who wants information on anything juicy occurring in his new jurisdiction, an ex-con turned tailor begins weaving various tall tales that soon spiral out of control.
Just after the handover of the Panama Canal from America back to Panama, British spy Andy Osnard (PIERCE BROSNAN) has been banished to the country by his boss, Luxmore (DAVID HAYMAN), for past indiscretions with various officials' wives and mistresses. Needing an "in" with some British local so as to be in touch with the country's various high level activities, Andy picks Harry Pendel (GEOFFREY RUSH), an ex-con who's reinvented himself in the Central American land as a tailor to the rich and powerful.

Although Harry is reluctant to help, he could use the money that Andy offers for information to pay off his debt on a farm, and worries that the spy might tell his beautiful wife, Louisa (JAMIE LEE CURTIS), or kids, Mark (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) and Sarah (LOLA BOORMAN), about his checkered past. With his dead Uncle Benny (HAROLD PINTER) serving as his imagined mentor and muse, Harry starts looking for anything juicy, but finding nothing, decides to make up things to appease Andy's appetite for information.

Accordingly, he begins showing Andy around, introducing him to both his assistant, Marta (LEONOR VARELA), and old friend, Mickie Abraxas (BRENDAN GLEESON), both of whom he states were anti-Noriega freedom fighters and are current members of something called the Silent Opposition. Meanwhile, Andy checks in at the British embassy where he meets Ambassador Maltby (JOHN FORTUNE) and Francesca (CATHERINE McCORMACK), an employee he quickly puts the moves on, but no one there has heard of the secret organization.

As Andy begins a passionate affair with Francesca, and Louisa becomes increasingly suspicious of Harry's peculiar behavior and the time he spends with Andy, the tailor starts telling even taller tales that soon grab the attention of various British officials, the Pentagon, and then involve a large sum of money that everyone wants a piece of.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Due to the nature of the medium, most professions portrayed in films are far more interesting, intriguing and/or exciting than in real-life where most cops rarely pull their guns, paleontologists usually don't encounter cloned dinosaurs and cartoonists seldom enter the cartoon worlds they've created.

By their very secretive essence, it's hard to tell exactly what spies are like in the real world, but with various ones being uncovered and exposed as of recent, it doesn't appear that their lives are as sexy, dangerous and/or exotic as portrayed in spy-based entertainment such as the James Bond series or any number of similar films. Instead, most of their job requirements are probably rather mundane and the long stakeouts, research and paperwork would probably be less than thrilling for most viewers to behold.

In that sense, the latest such spy film, "The Tailor of Panama," fits that humdrum aura, but more so in mood and resultant feeling than in actually showing spies sitting around and doing very little or nothing. In fact, writer/director John Boorman ("The General," "Deliverance") and co-writer John le Carré (the novelist who's adapted his own work after writing other novels such as "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold") appear to have fashioned an engaging, interesting and even funny spy caper.

Yet, while the film seemingly has all of the proper ingredients in place, features a great cast, and is certainly competently made and handsomely staged, it never manages to feel like it gets out of second gear. As a result, it's unlikely that many viewers will get too excited about the film and what it has to offer.

Part of that might stem from the presence of the latest James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan, in the role of this picture's British agent. Having thrilled viewers in those films (such as "The World is Not Enough") and playing similarly resourceful and charismatic characters in "The Thomas Crown Affair" and TV's "Remington Steele," his standing onscreen reputation ends up conflicting with his character here.

That's actually appears to be part of the wry joke that the filmmakers are delivering in this moderately witty film -- that slowly turns from a drama into something of a farce -- as Brosnan plays something of an anti-Bond type spy character.

Resourceful in more of a self-serving way than in being at the Majesty's beck and call, the character isn't particularly likable or sympathetic, and he doesn't really do anything that will get viewers to cheer for his success or be impressed by his actions and behavior. While that's presumably the intended point, viewers usually want to experience one sort of strong emotion or another toward characters - love 'em or hate 'em - rather than feeling rather blasé about what they see.

Yet, that's the film's biggest problem. Despite the progressively developing storyline that sounds interesting -- of a character unknowingly setting into motion an increasingly out of control series of events by making up stories of political unrest - the overall film feels far too sedate for most of its running time. It only finally starts to pick up steam toward the end, but by then, it's a little too late.

Notwithstanding the reputation-based conflict, Brosnan is actually good in the role, convincingly playing the sort of rogue who would do what he does and get away with it. The film really belongs to Geoffrey Rush ("Quills," "Shine"), however, in the title role. Although his is not an infallible character, Rush imbues him with enough engaging characteristics that you can't help but enjoy and be entertained by his performance.

As his suspicious wife, Jamie Lee Curtis ("Halloween: H2O," "True Lies") is decent but unremarkable, which can also be said about Brendan Gleeson ("The General," "Lake Placid") and Leonor Varela ("The Man in the Iron Mask," the TV miniseries "Cleopatra") as his fabricated revolutionaries, and Catherine McCormack ("Dangerous Beauty," "Braveheart") as the spy's embassy lover. All deliver solid performances, yet none really light any sort of fire, much like the film itself, beyond the various sex scenes.

While the picture contains no specific structural flaw or bad performance, it simply never manages to be engaging or compelling enough to overcome its overall bland and lackluster feel. Although it looks great, is more than competently made and features a good cast who deliver solid performances - all of which make it easy enough to sit through - the film is near instantly forgettable. It also seems as if it will sneak out of theaters more subtly than a spy, with few recalling the picture when they then spot it on video store shelves not long after that. "The Tailor of Panama" rates as a decent, but otherwise ho-hum 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 7, 2001 / Posted March 30, 2001

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