The Tailor of Panama

on March 30, 2001 by Bridget Byrne
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   "The Tailor of Panama" is one big double entendre that's too jokey for its own good yet nevertheless is at times very amusing. It overdoses on the irony of John Le Carre's cynical spy genre but fails to hit true to the genuine darkest side of the no-man's land of spy politics.

   Actually there is not much genuine about it--any story fully set in Panama that is partially filmed in Ireland is by its very nature bound to be problematic. Compounding this dilemma is the distinct feeling that someone didn't really understand the culture and conventions its skewers--probably the releasing company. It begins with printed on-screen explanations to tell the audience what it's looking at, which presumes viewers can't find Panama on a map and have never heard there's a canal there, and it ends with false, over coy images of its murky anti-heroes.

   These anti-heroes are, however, hilarious, both apart and together. The teaming of Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush as con men who can never tell the truth, not even to themselves, is a laugh-fest.

   Brosnan, as Andy Osnard, the immoral minor league British spy, and Rush, as Harry Pendel, the Cockney jailbird reinvented as a men's tailor, an important cog in Panamanian society, bounce off and around each other with unparalleled glee. Indeed, there is a scene in which they literally bounce while engaged in a conversational dual on a brothel's vibrating bed, which is superbly silly.

   The plot wends imaginatively through amusing twists that sometimes dead-end in serious moments that don't resonant so successfully. Most problematic of all are the characters who have to play off Andy and Harry. Jamie Lee Curtis, usually so assured, seems uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons in the role of Harry's respectable American wife. Catherine McCormack has little more do than be arch, both verbally and physically, as the British diplomat who finds Andy fine for bed but little else. Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is convincing as a drunk--just not very convincing as a Panamanian with a political conscience who happens to be a drunk. Leonor Varela, her beauty half marred by the plot line, is barely half used as Harry's fondest critic. His other critic, his dead old lag uncle, who pops up to remind him of who he really is and where he came from, is a shadow role wasted on Harold Pinter.

   Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry's young son, is now cast as a very famous Harry. He'll be Harry Potter in the upcoming "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." He has so little to do here--most of the kid stuff goes to his sister, played by director John Boorman's offspring Lola--it's hard to tell if he has talent. He simply looks cute.

   With a writing credit comprised of the brilliant novelist Le Carre, Andrew Davies, renowned for his successful television adaptations of classic like "Pride and Prejudice" and "Wives and Daughters," and the risk-taking Boorman, one hopes for insight, intelligence and class to back up the humor. Or maybe not--maybe too many bright minds pull in too many different directions. As a director, Boorman certainly doesn't appear to have smoothed the whole into any consistent tone, or at least not one that American audiences more attuned to Brosnan as James Bond, a spy who saves the world rather than screwing it further into chaos, will understand. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis. Directed and produced by John Boorman. Written by Andrew Davies, John Le Carre and John Boorman. A Columbia release. Satire. Rated R for strong sexuality, language and some violence. Running time: 109 min

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