It becomes apparent early on that Fast Charlie is not going to be your typical crime drama. Featuring not one but two brutal deaths in its opening minutes that are as hilarious as they are graphically gory, Phillip Noyce’s thriller starring Pierce Brosnan in the title role has the irreverence of an Elmore Leonard tale, leavened with generous doses of sentiment. We’ve seen plenty of cinematic aging hitmen looking to retire to a more peaceful life before, but thanks to Brosnan’s ageless charm and a subtly rendered love story underpinning the proceedings, we’ve never rooted for one quite as much.

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Based on Victor Gischler’s more crudely titled novel Gun Monkeys, the mostly Mississippi-set film revolves around Charlie, who likes to think of himself less as a killer for hire than a “concierge” — a “problem solver,” if you will. And as this story unfolds, Charlie’s got a lot of problems to solve. First, he botches the killing of a target thanks to his clueless new partner, who uses too much explosive and renders the body unidentifiable. That one is solved easily enough when the hapless accomplice accidentally shoots himself dead and serves as a substitute corpse.

Fast Charlie


A B-movie with heart.

Release date: Friday, Dec. 8

Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Morena Baccarin, James Caan, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Christopher Matthew Cook, David Chattam, Toby Huss

Director: Philip Noyce

Screenwriter: Richard Wenk

90 minutes

A bigger problem emerges in the form of rival gangster Beggar (Gbenga Akinnagbe), who kills Charlie’s elderly, dementia-addled boss Stan (the late James Caan, affecting in his final screen appearance) and most of Stan’s gang. The remaining target is Charlie, who teams with his latest victim’s embittered ex-wife Marcie (Morena Baccarin, Deadpool) to try and stay alive, with her skills as a professional taxidermist coming in unexpectedly handy.

The fairly conventional storyline is enlivened by the many doses of wry humor peppered throughout the tight script (Fast Charlie comes in at 90 minutes, a welcome exception to the bloated running times of so many actioners these days) by Richard Wenk (the Equalizer films, The Magnificent Seven). When Charlie shows up at Marcie’s door only to discover the dead bodies of two would-be assassins she’s managed to dispatch on her own, he sardonically inquires, “This a bad time?” 

Which is not to say the film is without thrills. Those include a tense sequence in which Charlie hides from an assassin in a hotel laundry chute, only barely managing to prevent himself from falling and finding the task considerably more difficult after the killer shoots his gun randomly up the chute and hits him in the leg; and a final stand-off in which Charlie seems destined to become Beggar’s latest victim until, of course, he’s not.

Employing a spotty Southern drawl that never proves remotely convincing in a way that somehow doesn’t matter, the still fit 70-year-old Brosnan delivers the kind of assured, low-key commanding performance befitting a former James Bond. His Charlie is the sort of ruthlessly skilled operative who easily gets the goods on a pair of would-be killers thanks to a Ring Doorbell but also treats his longtime boss Stan’s increasing memory loss with gentle care, including thoughtfully labeling the Italian dishes he’s cooked for him and left in his refrigerator. His dream for retirement is living in one of those run-down homes in Italy that you can buy for a dollar if you renovate it. The main reason he hasn’t gone yet is the lack of a partner. It’s a situation that may be remedied thanks to his growing rapport with the significantly younger Marcie (Brosnan and Baccarin play the subtle flirtations perfectly).