Saturday, April 01, 2006
I finally rented "The Living Daylights" a few nights ago and I understand why my friends who like James Bond don't recommend this movie. Yeah, sure, it fulfilled the minimum requirements for an action film, it had a pretty girl, explosions, a plot (sort of), and a few really good scenes. But it's not very memorable and it treads awfully close to being boring at times. It very much lacks the spirit of excitement that characterizes the best Bond films. Even "Die Another Day," which I savaged elsewhere on this blog, is fun, even if it is hopelessly stupid. "The Living Daylights" is unforgivably average.
But it's not Timothy Dalton's fault. He's a perfectly serviceable Bond, not humorless (as I'd heard) but very low-key. In a different movie or a different era, he would have been a very good James Bond.
I blame 1987. After all, in what other year would a movie producer think that a-ha would be a good band for a James Bond movie theme? The video was really bad. I can't even remember what it was like because my psychic defense mechanisms have wiped it from my memory. (Thank you, psychic defense mechanisms!) And the title sequence of the film itself BLOWS! (I have a statement in my notes that even the fonts are bad.) This is OFFICIALLY the worst theme song for a James Bond film. (Ian Fleming's ghost told me so.) This movie has a lot to make up for from the stinky early minutes, and it can't possibly catch up. (Except for the monkeys. The action sequence before the credits takes place on Gibraltar, and we see the Gibraltar monkeys briefly. You can't go wrong with monkeys. They should have been flinging their poo at a-ha.)
It was not a good year for a James Bond film. People looked really silly in 1987. This was the era when Cyndi Lauper and Molly Ringwald were making major fashion statements, and things that made sense in music videos spilled over into the real world and into too many areas of pop culture and this era has been scarred for all time. (I’m not blaming anybody. I remember those years. We had been living with Ronald Reagan as out president for seven years and that would make anybody lose it a little bit.)
The girl is pretty. (I thought she looked kind of strange at first, but then I remembered it was 1987 and everybody looked like that for a few years.) Maryam d'Abo fills the role of Bond girl very nicely, and she is very helpful in many of the scenes. She is Kara Milovy, a cello-playing Russian assassin (or something), one of those combinations that is perfectly believable in a James Bond film.
The plot has to do with a Russian agent defecting to the West. But he's not really defecting! He's pretending to defect. And Maryam d'Abo is his girlfriend and she's part of the plan and the Russian defector betrays her, but it's only Bond's superior instincts that save her from being killed. (This is a pretty good scene. The movie starts to redeem itself at times, but it seldom maintains the excitement for more than a few minutes.)
The British are protecting the fake defector at a mansion in the English countryside. Some guys show up to kidnap the fake defector (but not really, because the fake defector is in on the plan). And you know these guys are REALLY BAD because they kill a milkman! That is so not cool. I'm not sure you should ever show something like that on film, no matter how bad the villain is.
So, in order to find out more about the plan of the defector, Bond starts romancing the girl and trying to get her trust. "The Living Daylights" gets kind of boring for a while so I forget how she realized her old boyfriend was a pig and started working with Bond. I vaguely remember a ferris wheel. In Vienna or something. Oh, yeah! There's this really cool scene where they escape on skis while carrying the cello! (It's a Stradivarius, you see, and they can't leave it behind for the Russians! So that's how Kara knew she could trust Bond, because he risked his life to save her cello. You think I'm kidding, don't you.)
(And somewhere in there, they go to Tangiers for a few minutes. For some reason. I forget why. Maybe they explain it in the deleted scenes.)
Joe Don Baker is pretty good, as a renegade American arms dealer named Brad Whittaker. He has a house full of wax dummies of himself dressed as various historical war leaders, such as Julius Caesar and Napoleon. He also has a miniature battlefield recreation of Gettysburg in one room, where Bond and Whittaker have a fateful confrontation in the big finale.
Whittaker is a great villain, and I wish he had a larger role. I can't remember what he has to do with the main storyline. It made sense when I watched it, but it did not stay in my head over night.
The last forty minutes or so are really exciting, and it is a shame that the rest of the film doesn't hold up as well. Bond and Maryam d'Abo go to Afghanistan (for some reason) and help the Taliban. (This is back in 1987, remember, when the Taliban was fighting the Russians. And the US was helping Muslim extremists. I'm going to pretend to be a conservative for a second and pretend Clinton was president in 1987 and blame it on him. (And I expect to hear this rumor repeated by a lying wingnut within a week. Rush Limbaugh! Don’t let me down!))
The scenes in Afghanistan are pretty exciting, Joe Don Baker has a few good scenes, and the girl is pretty even if her clothes are dumb. (Her hair is kinda dumb too.) So the film is not a total waste. And Timothy Dalton does a fine job that is really hard to analyze fairly. It is not Timothy Dalton's fault that it was 1987.
The a-ha video should have ended with Dalton creeping in and killing each of the band members. He could shoot one of them between the eyes, choke Pal Waaktar with some guitar strings, and then throw Wags (or whatever his name is) out of an airplane. That would have been cool.
(And my apologies to the members of a-ha. I'm sure it is very difficult to be a Finnish pop band, and they are doing the best they can. To find out more about a-ha, one of the most successful pop bands ever, please check out the wikipedia entry.)
So that's my verdict on Timothy Dalton's James Bond: It's Clinton's fault!
And somewhere, Timothy Dalton sits in a dark room, alone and embittered, plotting REVENGE! ("Lousy Clinton," he mutters.)
NEXT: I read the book version of "Moonraker" last week. And I really liked it! So expect a short review of "MOONRAKER – THE BOOK" in a few days, followed by my opinions on the film … but I have to see it first.