THE NOVEMBER MAN: 3 STARS

“The November Man,” a new spy thriller starring Pierce Brosnan, has some James Bondian elements. There’s Olga Kurylenko, who was the Bond girl in “Quantum of Solace,” loads of intrigue and exotic locations. What makes this character different from Brosnan’s Bond are the gadgets. There aren’t any. The only gadgets he has here are two fists and a gun.

Brosnan plays Peter Devereaux, a violent CIA agent nick named the November Man, because once he passes through, nothing lives. He’s given up his lethal ways, and now enjoys a quiet retirement in Switzerland. When the proverbial one last job— extracting his former wife out of a sticky situation in Belgrade—goes wrong, he gets embroiled in a case that sees him protecting a witness Alice Fournier (Kurylenko) who could bring down the next president of Russia and dodging bullets from his former CIA protégé David Mason (Luke Bracey).

Based on Bill Granger's novel "There are No Spies" from the bestselling November Man book series, the movie begins as a taut thriller but soon turns from perfectly functional espionage story to a messy tale of personal grudges and unresolved daddy issues.

The story splinters off in several directions, making perhaps one too many u-turns along the way, but ultimately succeeds because Brosnan brings the Bond. Sure, it’s more the violent Daniel Craig style 007, but it’s great fun to see the actor back in action man mode.

He punches, shoots and kicks his way through the movie, even when the story threatens to overpower him.

Director Roger Donaldson (“The Bank Job,” “No Way Out”) stages several exciting chase scenes and builds tension and even develops some subtext about the consequences of leading a violent life—“You can be a human or a killer of humans, but you can’t be both.”—but veers off into melodrama every now and again. By the time a bad guy says (NO SPOILERS HERE), “You just doomed us to another decade of conflict,” you could be forgiven for thinking “The November Man” was a cold war thriller parody.

As it is the movie is a somewhat generic thriller buoyed by Brosnan’s Bondness.
 

Life of Crime

LIFE OF CRIME: 3 STARS

“Life of Crime” is slickly made but blandish adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel "The Switch." As usual Leonard’s bad guys are more interesting than the straights. The trick here is figuring out who the bad guys are.

Jennifer Aniston is Mickey, the trophy wife of the abusive and corrupt Frank Dawson. Outwardly they have the perfect marriage, but at home trouble is brewing. At home, at least when Frank isn’t off doing “business” at his hideaway in the Bahamas, tending to his girlfriend Melanie (Isla Fisher) and off shore bank accounts.

When two low-rent criminals, Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def) kidnap Mickey they hadn’t counted on Frank using their plan as a quickie divorce. No ransom, no alimony. Cue the double crosses and intrigue.

The major selling point here is the dialogue. Leonard was a master of the backroom criminal dialogue and here they have the good sense to keep most of his snappy words intact. Hawkes and Bey are particularly adept at delivering the goods, mouthing the words as if they were Leonard’s illegitimate children. Robbins is convincing as the sleazy land developer and Fisher is a femme fatale in the making. The weak link is Aniston, who seems like she might have calibrated her performance for the similarly plotted “Ruthless People” rather than a down-and-dirty crime drama.

Like many of Leonard’s stories “Life of Crime” tends to favor the characters who live on the down low. Hawkes and Bey—despite their association with a neo-Nazi (Mark Boone Jr.)—are treated as the sensitive heroes of the piece, while everyone else is playing some sort of game. It makes for interesting character dynamics but doesn’t sit as well here as it did in “Get Shorty” or “Out of Sight.”
 

Susan Sarandon in 'The Calling'

THE CALLING: 3 STARS

There was a time when serial killers ruled the movie theatres. Movies like “Kiss the Girls,” “Se7en” and “Silence of the Lambs” were big hits and law enforcement types like Alex Cross and Clarice Starling were big draws. Now those stories have been moved to the small screen and television shows like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” track down the kinds of killers their big screen counterparts used to stalk.

“The Calling” is a throwback to the type of 90s thrillers that made Ashley Judd a star and kept audiences on the edge of their seats.

Drawn from the pages of Inger Ash Wolfe’s mystery novels, Susan Sarandon plays pill-popping Detective Hazel Micallef, a world weary small town Canadian cop just a drunken whisper away from unemployment. The sleepy little town of Fort Dundas doesn’t offer up much in the way of major cases until a string of grisly murders—slit throats and organ removals—forces Micallef to dust off her detecting skills and track down a killer with driven by fanatical religious fervor.

First time director Jason Stone ratchets the bleak atmosphere up to Creep Factor Five in this eerie character driven mystery. There’s a little bit of “Fargo” in the mix, with some dark humor—“I just found the guy’s stomach!”—and disquieting imagery, but the real draw is watching the characters navigate through the film’s unsettled but strangely familiar world.

Sarandon is terrific as outwardly tough detective with a self-destructive center, while Sutherland brings his patented gravitas to the role of a priest who knows more than he is willing to let on. They, along with Grace, Burstyn (who isn’t given enough to do) and Gil Bellows as a no nonsense detective, temper the story’s more outrageous holistic killer Catholic elements.     

“The Calling” could have snapped up the pacing a bit, but the slower tempo gives us more time to sit back and enjoy the performances.

as above so below

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW: 1 STAR

It seems archeologists will never learn. At least movie archeologists. In every decade since the 1920s a cinematic excavators has unleashed all kinds of trouble in the present because they messed with the past. Sir Joseph Whemple gave us the Mummy’s Curse, Indiana Jones uncovered flaming Nazis and Lara Croft left us with two so-so movies.

In the new thriller “As Above/So Below” a group of young “urban” archeologists led by Krav Maga black belt Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) explore miles of unmapped catacombs under the streets of Paris, searching for the Philosopher's Stone, a fabled artifact with the power to grant eternal life. A similar search for the relic drove Scarlett’s archeologist father barmy—“His quest was a quest to madness!” says a friend.”— but she is convinced that she, her ex-boyfriend George (“Mad Men” co-star Ben Feldman), a cameraman named Benji ("The Purge’s" Edwin Hodge) and a group of apparently expendable spelunking explorers (Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar) can play DaVinci Code and follow ancient symbols and clues deep underground and succeed where dear dad failed. Instead of eternal life, however, they discover quite the opposite. They end up having a helluva time—literally.

The idea of being in a location where your deepest fears and terrible memories manifest themselves is a good “Twilight Zone-ish” premise, but the found footage style is so wild it seems as though they strapped a camera on the back of an angry dog and let it run wild in the catacombs. My kingdom for a tripod!

As for scares, there are a couple of good “jump“ moments and claustrophobics may want to stay home but the creepy stuff—like the weird wall-eyed lady who wanders in and out of the action like some specter from a better movie—is not so much terrifying as it is jarring. Although on the plus side the jumps are a good break from the tedium of watching this bunch say, “We have to find a way out,” over and over.

The characters in “As Above/So Below” are forced to relive their own ideas of hell. Mine would be having to watch this movie again.