The Spy Who Bored Me
The deejay guy at the promotional screening was trying, halfheartedly, to rouse the audience. "The gentlemen are here to see Halle Berry," he observed, to scattered whistles and at least one Mmm-hmmm! "The ladies are here to see Pierce Brosnan." Silence. Maybe the ladies felt as unaroused as I about 007. That's what's so unfair about the Bond movies: always the new woman of the moment, whether it's Denise Richards or Ursula Andress, but a new man only every seven years if we're lucky. And Pierce Brosnan? Nice accent--but rather hairy, don't you think?
Especially in the 20th Bond film, Die Another Day, which plants its star agent in a North Korean prison camp for 14 months (or about four minutes in movie time, which is just long enough to get really sick of Madonna's vacuous title number). Brosnan dons dirty long tresses and a beard as part of his ordeal, and he looks quite fierce as a tortured hippie; maybe I'd prefer him more hairy, not less. Hmmm...
Oh, right...the movie! Sorry. In a word: breathless. Or is that endless? Let's say endlessly breathless: two words. The viewer may tire of breakneck chases and reckless escapes (many of which are replays of previous Bond chases and escapes, resulting in a sort of exhausting highlights reel). The viewer may also grow frustrated with bad guys who can't hit a target, whether they're wielding an Uzi or a space satellite wrapped in foil that redirects the sun's rays into a boiling light beam. The viewer may become dull-eyed and thirsty amid the flying carnage of stale sex puns. May become? Let's say did.
What can I say about Berry's performance? As Jinx, she puts on a jokey street pose and takes off many of her clothes. (She appears more comfortable doing the latter.) As for stunts, she does a nice backward dive into her cleavage. But otherwise she comes off determined rather than competent. (It isn't fair to compare her to Michelle Yeoh, of course--but Jinx is no Pussy Galore.) The tits are awesome--though Bond seems less moved by them than you'd expect. Actually, Brosnan seems less moved by everything: His usual hints of wry humor and affection get lost in the furious pace. If this Bond is meant to be harder-edged, the result is dull.
Still, there are pleasures to be found. There's a sword fight--hosted by that expert swordsman Madonna--that mashes up a posh British club. There's an invisible car (engine still audible). And a sternly silly John Cleese replacing stern Desmond Llewelyn (R.I.P.) as weapons master--plus a mini-tribute to Q's iconic inventions. The Clash's "London Calling" playing loudly as a stewardess offers Bond his first-class martini. A cute Korean henchman (Rick Yune) with diamonds scored into his cheeks.
Looks aside, these bad guys have nothing on Robert Carlyle's sad-eyed anarchist in The World Is Not Enough. No wonder director Lee Tamahori ladles on the explosions. Fortunately for him, Die Another Day happens to approximate current events. A North Korean colonel (Will Yun Lee) is convincing the hardliners to follow him into a new age of world domination. His weapon--that satellite thingie--is more powerful than the West's nuclear arsenal because it can fry missiles as they fly. (You want plausibility, stick with Harry Potter.) The device also does a number on landmines, which the U.S. apparently left around in large numbers, resulting in some pissed-off young North Koreans. You know who'll prevail.
Speaking of which, check out Bond XIX, circa 1999, for truly astounding topical relevance. After a friend is assassinated, Bond's boss M (Judi Dench) gives a speech. "This will not stand," she announces. "We will not be terrorized by cowards who would murder an innocent man. We'll find the people who committed this atrocity--we'll follow them to the farthest ends of the earth if need be." Isn't it comforting to know that our president loves Bond movies, too?
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