I’m sure there are twelve year old boys out there who’ve just come out of comas and have never seen a spy movie, an Austin Powers-style spoof of the genre or a picture like I Spy-whatever that was supposed to be-and the 20th James Bond release is sure to prove great film fun for them. How anyone else could sit through its 2 1/2 hours and not drop at least a dozen IQ points is beyond my comprehension. Particularly now that I’ve seen it.
Pierce Brosnan makes his fourth appearance as the legendary British agent. The former “Remington Steele” star takes the character well into cartoon territory in “Die Another Day,” a shambles of digitally doctored stunts, puerile puns and half-baked plotting.
To make an unnecessarily long story short: the world’s most famous undercover operative is in mid-mission as the film begins. He touches down in North Korea posing as an arms dealer with a briefcase full of diamonds. Top military brass surround him as he descends the stairs of his helicopter. I remember thinking HE’s the world’s most famous undercover operative. Wouldn’t top military brass recognize him? They do. And Bond’s capture provides the movie’s one and only credible moment.
Eventually he’s released from prison, learns his old pals at headquarters think it’s because he spilled top secret beans, then resolves to track down the arms deal contact who sold him out and clear his name. Think that sounds like a lesser Dolph Lundgren vehicle? It’s vintage Bergman next to act two.
The trail leads back to London and a sneering comic book baddie played by Toby Stephens. He’s supposed to be some sort of debonair super entrepreneur who made his millions in the diamond mines, never sleeps and has built a reputation as a philanthropist. Orbiting the same social circle is Halle Berry in the role of an is-she-really-good-or-is-she-really-evil babe of mystery. Brosnan spends the balance of the film in a duel of wits with one, in bed with the other and trading infantile double entendres with both.
How ill-advised is this picture? Madonna makes a surprise appearance! It’s not regrettable enough she just destroyed her husband’s career, now she’s going after 007. Mrs. Ritchie is only in the movie for a few moments, but that’s all it takes to make clear what everyone in the industry should have recognized years ago: Madonna must not be allowed to act!
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Stephens is really a villainous mastermind who’s developed an outer space doomsday device to help him take over the world. Lucky for humankind, the world’s most famous undercover operative is staying just down the hall at the dude’s ice palace.
Did I mention Bond has an invisible car? That he extreme surfs for no apparent reason? That, when he’s stranded amidst miles of frozen tundra, a bad guy just happens to drive a snowmobile right past the spot where he’s hiding so Bond conveniently can jump him and commandeer the vehicle? Did I mention the average eighth grader could come up with a more believable storyline and more sophisticated repartee?
So my question is this: if they’re going to feature villains as over-the-top as the ones in parodies like Austin Powers; if they’re going to appeal to young viewers by resorting to the same sort of gratuitous stunt action as already can be found in late model espionage titles like XXX; if they’ve become nothing more than trumped up festivals of product placement, is there really any need for further Bond adventures?
If “Die Another Day” succeeds on any level, it’s in making the answer crystal clear. Diamonds may be forever, but it’s time for the 40 year old franchise to say never again.