In magic acts, and in movie thrillers, it’s called “the reveal,” that “wow” moment when some secret that’s key to understanding what happened before is unmasked. In the movies, big “reveals” are usually in the third act.
But in “The Double,” an espionage thriller starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace, a pretty big reveal comes not near the end, and not at the very beginning, in the style of the old TV show “Colombo,” allowing us to watch one character hunt down the fellow we know is his quarry. It’s just deep enough into this film — about the hunt for a Soviet era assassin who has resurfaced and murdered a U.S. Senator — to surprise us, and just far enough from the end to make us wonder “What ELSE will they spring on us?”
That’s a blunder first time-director Michael Brandt, who co-wrote “Wanted” and one of the lousier “Fast and Furious” sequels, never overcomes in this generally generic spy hunt.
A senator’s death tells the CIA that “The Cassius 7″ are back, or at least the master Russian assassin who led them. The Agency named this hit squad after the Roman senators who assassinated Caesar. The boss (Martin Sheen) brings back super spy Paul Sheperdson (Gere) to track down a guy Paul is certain is dead, and the FBI puts not its best man but “a kid,” Ben Geary (Topher Grace) who did all this research on the Cassius 7 back in college, and on Paul.
“I feel like I know you,” Ben tells his hero.
And just in case Ben hasn’t gotten the message, Paul’s put-down settles it. “You’re a librarian.”
This mismatched duo set off, by themselves, on a leisurely hunt for a cold-blooded killer who happened to slit the throat of a senator. Their criminally understaffed investigation takes them into the world of Russian hookers and imprisoned spooks.
The pace of the chase is so slack that we’re left to wonder, at every turn, why The Agency is so lacking in urgency. Back-stories on the two guys — Paul’s a loner, Ben’s got a wife he needs to fear for — don’t cover up the lapses in logic and spycraft in the script.
Gere is adequate, as always. But Grace seems as if he’s going to be playing “the Kid” until he’s on Social Security. Surely he’s tired of doing this callow young guy learning at the feet of the master shtick, which is another way of saying he manages to be neither charismatic nor poker-faced enough in the part.
But they’re only as good as their script (Brandt co-wrote it) and direction, and those two elements spoil any chance for cat-and-mouse games by mistiming its revelations and miscalculating their impact. “The Double” is barely half the movie it had the potential of becoming.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images and language
Cast: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen
Credits: Directed by Michael Brandt, co-written by Brandt and Derek Haas. A Hyde Park Entertainment release. Running time: 1:36