Based on the novel by supreme spy-spinner John le Carré, directed by the inestimable John Boorman, and with a classy cast that includes Geoffrey Rush and - poking fun at his Bond image - Pierce Brosnan, The Tailor Of Panama has the blueprint for an entertaining comic thriller. Sadly, it's more a case of "never mind the quality - feel the width".
It starts well enough, though. With Brosnan staring out of the window of the MI6 Christmas cake on the Thames, you think you've stepped into the latest James Bond by mistake. But Brosnan is slouching and sneering in a way 007 never would. And, of course, his Andy Osnard is the antithesis of Bond, being an agent who is clearly up to no good.
For his part, Rush plays the epony-mous tailor as a decent, ex-East End boy who just can't help telling porkies. Unlike Osnard, Harry is a likeable, but flawed, hero, forced to act obsequiously towards his morally dubious patrons to help provide for his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and two children. We don't necessarily approve of his behaviour, but Rush, with yet another subtly charismatic turn, certainly helps us understand it.
What Boorman does well is capture the absurdity of both the spying game and the idea of "intelligence." Facts are bandied about like Monopoly money, becoming totally without currency. In a country where real danger exists, the spies manage to create a fake threat.
The problem is that, having set up such an intriguing scenario, Boorman doesn't know what to do with it. His films (Point Blank, Deliverance) always play wry, delicate games with generic conventions. But here, elements of conventional thriller and black comedy tug uneasily at each other, threatening to tear the film apart at the seams.
Sadly, the comedy wins out in a woefully lacklustre third act. The problem is that Brosnan's Osnard remains under-developed, no more than an ironic sketch of a character. It's not really the actor's fault, but The Tailor Of Panama is distinctly reminiscent of the mess made (mostly due to the casting of Richard Gere) of Graham Greene's not dissimilar The Honorary Consul. If Osnard had been a meatier creation, this might have been a much better film.
Despite being an atmospheric tale of South American political intrigue with post-modern Bondish knobs on, Boorman's ambitious blend of tense thriller and sly black comedy fails to give the story the hard edge it needs. More M&S than Savile Row.