The Double - Topher Grace and Richard Gere
Ben Geary (Topher Grace) and Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) are unlikely partners searching for an assassin who is supposed to be dead © 2011 Image Entertainment

The Double is so awkwardly “off” it’s as if the producers took what started out as an odd couple comedy and wondered if the screenplay might work as a straight espionage thriller. The answer: Nyet!

Richard Gere is in grumpy Harrison Ford mode as retired CIA spook Paul Shepherdson. The stone-faced loner is called out of retirement when a Soviet assassin he long ago told his superiors was dead appears to be back in action. Shepherdson is teamed with hyper-eager rookie agent Ben Geary (the ever-annoying Topher Grace), who has studied the career of the killer codenamed Cassius with fanatically obsessive fervor.

The movie’s gimmick, revealed early and not much of a surprise, is that Shepherdson actually is Cassius — a double agent who essentially was investigating himself during the Cold War. He not only was able to deceive the CIA, including head honcho Tom Highland (Martin Sheen), he also managed to get out of the game and settle down in Washington to live out his golden years. Now he has to deal with both the aggravation of knowing that some wannabe is out there impersonating him, and with the challenge of keeping go-go Geary from realizing the real Cassius is sitting right beside him in their unmarked car.

The Double - Stephen Moyer and Richard Gere
Brutus (Stephen Moyer) and Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) © 2011 Image Entertainment

That set-up could have made for lots of goofy double-takes, crazy close calls and manic misdirection if the story had been played for laughs. Instead, The Double tries for a No Way Out tone of desperately scrambling paranoia that’s hard to take seriously, especially when cold-blooded Cassius turns out to have a hidden family-friendly soft side.

Even things like the basic mechanics of Cassius’ modus operandi lack a certain credibility. His trademark killing method involves garroting victims with a sharp wire that quickly retracts into his wristwatch after the dirty deed is done. But wouldn’t at least a little blood whip back along that route and leave telltale tracks on his shirt cuff or jacket? (The same kind of over-thinking always made me wonder how gory the razor brim of Oddjob’s bowler hat in Goldfinger must have gotten after a few unpleasant uses.)

First-time director Michael Brandt co-wrote this frustrating misfire with Derek Haas. The same duo adapted the Halsted Welles screenplay of 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma into the excellent 2007 remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but The Double has none of that movie’s gravity, sense of menace or humanity.

A prison visit to a nasty Cassius associate codenamed Brutus (True Blood‘s Stephen Moyer) adds some surly-sociopath spice to the proceedings, but doesn’t make up for things like Geary explaining a plot point out loud to himself, or office-bantering with a stereotypical nerd coworker. There’s also a twist at the end that’s more ridiculous than clever.

Maybe the producers can remake The Double in a couple of years as an intentional farce, with Jonah Hill as a clueless Geary and George Clooney as an exasperated Shepherdson. “Dude, what’s that red stuff on your shirt sleeve?” “It’s ketchup, you durak, now keep your eyes on the road!” “Dude, did you just call me an idiot in Russian?” The thing practically writes itself.

[Rating: 1.5 stars]

The Double gets its theatrical release October 28, 2011

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.