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Die Another Day

Lame script, bland Bond can't stop the action

Friday, November 22, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Ian Fleming dead writes more than I do alive, or so the prolific posthumous output would seem. The latest inspired-from-the-grave James Bond entry -- roughly No. 700 of 007 adventures -- is "Die Another Day," continuing the hallowed tradition of meaningless titles such as "Tomorrow Never Dies." Might as well call it "Die Again Yesterday" or "Diamonds Live Next Tuesday."



RATING: PG-13 for mild sexual content.
STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens.
DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori.


Actually, it's the 20th, not 700th, Bond film since 1962, and this is Pierce Brosnan's fourth stab at the role (following "GoldenEye" '95, "Tomorrow" '97, "The World Is Not Enough" '99).

Visuals and special effects, let it be said first, are absolutely dazzling, starting with a spectacular high-speed hovercraft chase through a minefield in the demilitarized zone that separates good-axis South from evil-axis North Korea. Halle Berry plays Jinx, Bond's American counterpart, and Rosamund Pike is Miranda, his mysterious British colleague.

But James gets caught at the outset -- betrayed by a traitor, who is funded by the illegal diamonds of Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). That megalomaniac zillionaire and his ruthless henchman (Rick Yune) have developed "Icarus," the ultimate space weapon of mass destruction, and they're determined to conquer and make the world safe for Stalinism.

This astounding intro goes on for 15 minutes -- all this before the opening titles! During those credits, the story is effectively advanced (Bond's subsequent 14-month captivity and torture in a North Korean prison) in background images.

Turns out, there's a rogue madman in the upper echelons of this rogue nation. You'd think such a double negative might equal a positive -- but no. Two rogues don't make a right. They make an Oriental monster with an occidental DNA face-change, who studied at Oxford ("majoring in Western hypocrisy") and describes America's contribution to "peace" in Korea as its emplacement of 1 million land mines there.

The adventures of Berry and Brosnan -- the Bush-Blair of covert agents -- take them from Korea to Hong Kong, Cuba and Iceland. But not all evildoers are necessarily foreign. Regime change, as we should know, begins at home.

The pyrotechnics are unprecedented and astounding, even for a Bond film, which is, of course, the raison d'etre. The breathless tour de force of remote-control gadgetry and sensational stunts never lets up and is well worth the price of admission. Three fencing scenes (two for the boys, one for the girls) are splendid. Best of all is the fantastic final battle at Gustav's fabulous ice palace fortress, built on the order of a twisted Bucky Fuller geodesic dome.

But the trouble with "action" directors like Lee Tamahori is that they know their way around chase scenes and explosives, not around actors -- how to elicit credible dialogue and a performance in addition to a demonstration. Tamahori gets precious little help from Neal Purvis' and Robert Wade's lame script, which is full of soggy rather than snappy patter. As patter goes, some like it hot and some like it cool, but NOBODY likes it soggy. (There's one good line: Asked if she understands Bond's Big Bang theory, Berry replies, "I think I got the thrust of it.")

But Halle is hiding something in this film, and it's not her breathtakingly beautiful body in the swimsuit competition: It's any hint of the talent that won her an Oscar for "Monster's Ball." Judi Dench delivers every line stone-faced, standing stiff as a board. John Cleese, on the other hand, is a brief delight, and Toby Stephens is an excellent charismatic villain.

We save the biggest problem for last -- one I've wrestled with deeply: Pierce Brosnan. Like Roger Moore, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton before him, his mission impossible is to fill you-know-who's shoes. He's Cinderella's brother, trying to cram his feet into the original's size 007. Put a decimal point before that number and it's where Brosnan registers on the erotic scale. Irresistibly cosmopolitan? This Bond's municipal. It takes more chemical engineering than Tamahori can muster to make you believe his and Halle's sex scenes.

The best advice I can give you is just to kinda ignore Brosnan and concentrate on the fireworks. It's about THEM, not HIM, anyway. Fortunately, he (or rather, his stunt double) is moving, not "acting," most of the time.

But why, oh why, do they keep casting him? Give somebody else a chance -- maybe Michael Myers. Even Danny De Vito might be an improvement. What a tragedy that Sean Connery got too old for the role.

WAIT A MINUTE! Who sez Connery's too old? Mark Twain was mistaken when he said, "Better to be a young june-bug than an old bird-of-paradise." Gimme an old Connery vs. a young Brosnan any day! Think makeup. Think "Robin & Marian." Think huge box office! Put him in a wheelchair if you have to. Tighten up the dentures. Botox out a few lines, and digitally enhance a few biceps. Dye the chest hair.

I have it all planned, if they'd only listen.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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