In Survivor, Irish action hero Pierce Brosnan plays a ruthless, half-mad assassin in pursuit of a beautiful foreign service officer he's framed for murder. It's about as far from his superhero James Bond role as it’s possible to get, and Brosnan clearly revels in his evil alter ego. CAHIR O'DOHERTY gives his verdict.
When U.S. foreign service officer Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich) stationed in London is framed for murder, she flees for her life pursued by her former colleagues.
Desperate to clear her name, she embarks on an against the clock quest to find out who the real terrorists are as she evades a deadly assassin known as the Watchman (Pierce Brosnan).
That tried and tested formula fuels Survivor, which opens on Friday, nicely aided by a heroics-free performance from Jovovich, the genuinely compelling 39-year-old actress at its center. Rather than using computer generated martial arts moves or superhuman strength, she has to rely on her quick thinking to evade her pursuers as she tries to untangle the conspiracy that's trying to get her killed.
Top of the lethal list is the Watchman, an internationally feared assassin whose face has never been seen by the authorities. Known only to security services by his moniker, he has been responsible for killing across Europe without leaving an incriminating trace.
Brosnan clearly revels in a chance to play against type as a relentless and homicidal maniac who kills people as easily as he shakes their hands. There's not a trace of remorse for his innocent victims as he blazes forward, all guns blaring Terminator-style in pursuit of his prey.
The storyline is, it must be said, more than a little convoluted. When Kate refuses to back down over her concerns about potential terrorists being granted visas to the visit the U.S. she faces blowback from her own department, because these visitors have friends in high places.
To remove her threat, her assorted Middle Eastern adversaries plot to blow up a top tier restaurant and kill not just her but the entire embassy passport staff that stand in their way. As problem solving goes, this is not the subtle approach.
To further emphasize their point they add Brosnan’s Watchman to the mix as the bomb builder and gun wielding assassin.
Wouldn't you know, Kate steps out at the detonation moment to buy flowers in the nearby shop. As her friends are vaporized we are left to wonder if there might have been easier, less dramatic ways to tackle the problem than create an international incident in the middle of one of the most closely monitored cities in the world?
No sooner does the bomb explode but the Watchman realizes his prey has escaped, so he pursues her in broad daylight with a gun with a 14 inch silver silencer barrel. Clearly he's not worried about being conspicuous, but how he managed to evade identification for this long becomes even more of a mystery.
This is where things get really weird. Before she can figure out what happened Kate is being chased down by a man who will stop at nothing to finish her off. But going on the run makes the British spooks decide she's the rogue element, which her U.S. colleagues believe, even though she has been an outstanding officer without a blemish on her record.
The ease with which she falls from security expert to hostile agent is just a little too extreme, but Jovovich does a great job lending these shenanigans some credibility. Equally Brosnan is flawless playing his one note gun for hire, without so much as an emotion of any kind breaking over his leading man looks.
This has been an unremarkable year for the former 007, who has seen another film, The Moon and the Sun, in which he plays a long haired King Louis XIV, who is on a magical quest for immortality that sees him capture and steal a mermaid's life force, fall off Paramount’s release schedule before it had a chance to make an appearance.
That's not a good sign for the hard working Irish star, who has more than proved his mettle in his long career as a box office safe bet. Fans will hope that his mojo will drive No Escape, the September scheduled thriller which co-stars another major draw, Owen Wilson.
Meanwhile, Survivor will not be among his most distinguished credits, as the cliché ridden script and the workaday directing – not to mention the increasingly stitched together plot and plodding pace – let down the talents associated with this film.
Dylan McDermott is another flawless presence in the film, but he is betrayed by an underwritten part that lacks motivation or depth. In fact as the film progresses you begin to wonder if the scenes were written moments before they were shot, since they seem to lack conviction.
Director James McTiegue's previous offerings like V for Vendetta displayed a richly inventive intelligence at work, but even the chase sequences in Survivor seem workmanlike and by the numbers. It's a shame because both Jovovich and Brosnan's performances show us how Bourne-like this film should have been. Instead we are left to amble though, anticipating many of the plot twists before they happen.
Even the glorious Frances de la Tour, one of England's most distinctive Tony and Olivier Award winning actresses, is criminally underused, playing an American surveillance expert with nothing to do but help the plot find some kind of lost coherence.
Everything comes to a head when Kate, with the Marines, the CIA and MI5 in hot pursuit, still somehow manages to board a plane to JFK and arrive without a second glance (although her face is being broadcast on cable news all over the world).
Perhaps she's taken some invisibility lessons from the Watchman, or more likely Harry Potter, because at this point we have stopped believing this film is occurring in the real world.
What the terrorists want is what all terrorists in movies want now: to blow up New York and kill as many innocent people as possible. They want this because we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Or at least that's what some of them want.
What the film’s central bad guy wants is to make a killing on the U.S. market when his stocks soar after the attack. Don't ask. There's no point.
Throughout this increasingly unbelievable film Brosnan and Jovovich manage to maintain their dignity. Jovovich became famous for her supermodel looks, but she can act and carries the film. It's unfortunate that neither her character nor anyone else's ever really gets developed by the writer before the credits roll.
What is most surprising perhaps is how this $20 million film attracted the stars it did with the script it offered. Survivor starts out well but surrenders to every genre cliché, to the point where the characters’ fates become uninteresting.
We never doubt the outcome and we are not surprised when it rolls along, festooned with platitudes, and ties things up with a bow. After the hour and a half or so it takes for Survivor to unspool, you may feel like one yourself.