' ' Cinema Romantico: Fast Charlie

Monday, April 01, 2024

Fast Charlie

“Fast Charlie” is a movie that begins with the ending. Its eponymous mob fixer Charlie Swift (Pierce Brosnan) is standing in his underwear and an undershirt, surrounded by men with guns, and though he doesn’t literally say in voiceover, “You’re probably wondering how I get here,” what he does say is a variation of that colloquial line, nevertheless. And so, Phillip Noyce’s ninety-minute thriller, based on a novel by Victor Gischler, flashes back to show us how Charlie Swift got here. It’s less what Charlie is saying in this moment that sets up the movie to come, however, than how he looks. After all, this is not the first time we have seen Brosnan on screen in his skivvies; he sported nothing but underwear and cowboy boots in “The Matador,” though in that scene he evinced an irreverent swagger. At the start of “Charlie Swift,” the swagger is long gone. Brosnan even lets Noyce frame him so that you can distinctly see his paunch; he’s letting it all hang out, in a different kind of way, not unlike Harrison Ford at the beginning of the recent “Dial of Destiny,” making his age the point. Indeed, Charlie is dreaming of retiring from Biloxi to an Italian villa, and whether or not Brosnan’s Magnolia accent is believable (I’m unqualified to say), its insouciance elicits the sensation of how our man Swift is slowing down. 

As the movie opens, Fast Charlie has been dispatched along with a kid calling himself Blade (Brennan Keel Cook) to knock off a nefarious dude named Rollo at the behest of their boss Stan Mullen (James Caan). Evoking the age divide straight away, Charlie would rather take care of the dirty business himself but has orders to see what the kid can do, and rather than simply shoot their target, the kid chooses to impart some unnecessary theatricality by blowing him up. That, however, leaves Rollo without a face and difficult to officially ID, necessitating their tracking down Rollo’s ex Marcie (Morena Baccarin) so she can confirm that, yes, their dead meat is who they think he is. You might not be surprised to learn that Charlie and Marcie will fall in love, but you gotta give “Charlie Swift” credit, this is a helluva of a way to engineer a Meet Cute. And despite the quarter-century age difference, Brosnan and Baccarin’s chemistry works specifically because neither of them is trying too hard, each playing a wearied soul searching for an off ramp. His is the villa, hers is taxidermy, which sounds absurd on its face, but I appreciated how it turned the metaphor, a pair of aging people not yet ready to be stuffed.

Rollo’s death is what triggers a showdown between Stan and his younger rival Beggar (Gbenga Akinnagbe), transforming Charlie Swift into something akin to the last man standing. This turf war, though, is much too obligatory, evoked in the character of Beggar, barely a character at all, just a moving impediment. Even so, as this conflict takes shape, the manner in which Stan, beset by Alzheimer’s, holds court while slipping in and out of a mental fog, tempers all the macho hijinks in the best way. This was Caan’s final role, released posthumously after he died in 2022, and given that his character’s days are numbered, it provides an extra level of poignancy inextricable from real life, a la Val Kilmer in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

In some ways, “Fast Charlie” undermines its own sense of mortality in the action scenes by treating 2023 Pierce Brosnan like 1995 Pierce Brosnan. It works better when Noyce emphasizes Charlie’s caginess and wit, like a fateful car ride where recurring close-ups of the fixer’s eyes betray his cooly sizing up the situation, waiting for the right moment to strike. And though the screenplay traffics in clichés typical of the genre, it doesn’t so much find a way to circumvent them as evocatively reimagine them. When our fixer is forced to surgically extract a bullet, an amateur surgery performed by innumerable movie characters over the years, “Fast Charlie” fuses this thriller maxim with another one, namely, the fixer discussing his dream of escaping to an Italian villa, an adroit, affecting manifestation of nothing less than Being Too Old for This Shit.

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