It's no secret that Bond movies aren't spy movies. They're good guy/bad guy adventures as unconcerned with ambiguity as fairy tales.
Spies are untrustworthy oddballs by nature, so any espionage movie built on shifting allegiances, moral quandaries and dark trade craft that still wants to be coherent and entertaining has its work cut out for it. The new spy thriller "The November Man," based on a series of novels by Bill Granger, is this popcorn dilemma writ large and messy.
On the one hand, it's familiar territory in these days of grizzled veterans pulled back in the game ("Taken," "Red," "The Expendables"). Former 007 Pierce Brosnan plays ex-CIA spook Peter Devereaux, drawn out of retirement by an old handler (Bill Smitrovich) to exfiltrate a Russian source and former flame of Devereaux's who has damaging war-crime information on the next Russian president's involvement in the Chechen conflict.
When the mission implodes fatally, revealing a separate CIA operation led by an estranged former protégé (Luke Bracey), a suspicious and vengeful Devereaux becomes Bourne again. He turns against his old employer and hunts down a refugee worker in Belgrade (Olga Kurylenko) whose dangerous knowledge about the whole situation requires his protection.
But as the reverses, secrets and bodies pile up, what's lost is a sense of why Devereaux cares enough to get so involved and whether being violently rogue or ethically honorable is his modus operandi. Brosnan is aging quite nicely as a leading man, but even his residual appeal running around again in agent mode is diluted by the character's inconsistencies, a hindrance unaided by the screenplay's silly soup of the gritty and the ridiculous.
As for the thrills, they're loud but empty. Director Roger Donaldson ("The Bank Job," "No Way Out") can be a muscular and kinetic action director when others are mostly chaotic. But this is an intemperate effort, busy and bloody without ever being especially exciting, and in one scene involving a drunk, desperate Devereaux threatening an innocent woman to make a point, needlessly sadistic. It's called "The November Man," but it's really just another forgettable August release.
'The November Man'
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, language, sexuality, nudity and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes