Put aside the fear of Middle Eastern terrorists for a moment, The Double urges us; we have something else to worry about. “Russia is back,” a character says early on in the film. And Russia is ready to rumble.
The Double, by first-time director Michael Brand, makes an earnest attempt to rekindle those old Cold War flames and starts out on solid spy movie ground, even if it eventually falters. Neither remarkable or laughable, the film inhabits the safe middle ground of spy fare: It’s an average, old-fashioned movie without any bells or whistles, relying instead on story instead of action sequences to propel you through (the lone car chase is nothing you haven’t seen before). Nothing wrong with that, but when the story starts to fall apart you’re left wondering if the film was worth all the money and effort that went into making it.
The movie opens with an illegal border crossing, and shortly afterward a senator is murdered in D.C. His throat has been sliced with a wire, the signature style of someone the CIA is all too familiar with: the infamous Soviet assassin code-named Cassius, who has been missing in action for years.
Unsure if the murder is a copycat or if Cassius has suddenly roared back into action, the CIA turns to Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere), a retired agent who spent most of his career tracking — and failing to apprehend — the assassin. Paul is reluctant to return to the job, even at the request of his former colleague Tom (Martin Sheen), with whom he originated the manhunt for Cassius. He’s even less keen when he learns that in the post-9/11 world the CIA and the FBI work hand-in-hand and he’s expected to partner with a young FBI analyst, Ben Geary (Topher Grace), who hasn’t spent a minute in the field.
The Double spends a little time establishing the Odd Couple relationship, which isn’t terribly original or interesting, but mostly focuses on the search for Cassius, as Paul and Ben bicker, interrogate one of Cassius’ old chums (Stephen Moyer of True Blood, whose Russian accent is light years better than his Southern one) and try to infiltrate the network of Soviet evildoers who apparently think it’s still 1963.
As it spins along at a reasonably good clip — no one is going to mistake it for the slicker, more action-packed Salt — The Double unravels its secrets, which prove to be its undoing. In adult suspense fare, less tends to be more, and The Double starts grasping for cliches long before it should. Here’s hoping December’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers a little more style and substance for spy film aficionados.
Cast: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, Stephen Moyer.
Director: Michael Brandt.
Screenwriters: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas.
Producers: Patrick Aiello, Ashok Amritraj, Andrew Deane, Derek Haas.
An Image Entertainment release. Running time: 98 minutes. Intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, language. Opens Friday Nov. 4 in Miami-Dade: Aventura, Sunset; in Palm Beach: Delray.