From the opening shots of a Mexican bullfighter — the ”killer” of title and metaphor — to the vivid visual design built from hot primary colors and shots of cool long corridors, The Matador waves crazy overconfidence like a cape. Here, writer-director Richard Shepard asserts, is a seedy, amoral contract killer who goes by the gussied-up name of Julian Noble, calls himself a ”facilitator of fatalities,” and is played with businesslike breeziness by Brosnan, aiming yet another sharp boot up the arse of his James Bond persona. Among Noble’s many disgusting, anti-Bond qualities are a taste for cheap booze and underage girls and a conversational stream of sexual crudities. He’s also burnt-out — a phrase not in the 007 handbook — and The Matador gets its lurching game on when Noble meets squeaky-clean traveling salesman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear, projecting the remembered blurriness of every woman’s college roommate’s husband) in a Mexico City hotel bar.
The slimeball and the straight arrow find masculine common ground nursing sadnesses and fantasizing about the greener grass of the other fellow’s life while Mexico City pulses with possibility and loss. (Shepard shot The Matador entirely in Mexico — even the places identified as Las Vegas, Budapest, and Vienna.) But once yin meets yang, The Matador turns into a confused buddy picture, Hope Davis is underused as Danny’s suburban-sexy wife, and the whole thing stumbles to a lurching close — not the sharp, clean final thrust of a matador at his peak, but the messy slashings of an eager apprentice.
Still, the cinematography is consistently hipster handsome, the script is bracing in its lewdness, and Brosnan adds no unnecessary weight to Noble’s meaninglessness.