(director/writer: Lee Tamahori; screenwriters: Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/characters based on an Ian Fleming story; cinematographer: David Tattersall; editors: Andrew MacRitchie/Christian Wagner; music: Mirwais Ahmadzaï; cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Zao), John Cleese (Q), Judi Dench (M), Michael Madsen (Damian Falco), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Will Yun Lee (Colonel Moon), Emilio Echevarría (Raul), Madonna (Verity); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Barbara Broccoli/Michael G. Wilson; MGM; 2002-UK/USA)

“I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not, but this Bond flick is no worse or better than all the others.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

James Bond celebrates 40 years of existing on film and of being the grandfather of all franchise films. It all began with “Dr. No,” and ever since no film enterprise has made more money than 007. I’m not sure if this is a compliment or not, but this Bond flick is no worse or better than all the others. In the Bond case, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt but awe. It’s the same old, same old — a fun fantasy adventure flick as all the others, all done by the Bond formula of one-dimensional villains versus a super-cool hero surrounded by gorgeous dames, and with Bond always getting both the villains and the chicks. He also still has a flair for saying double-entendres and doing daring superhuman feats and ordering just the right kind of drinks (in this pic he orders a mojito in Havana). Though the Bond films have lost their freshness, they have not lost their audience. Each new Bond flick seems to be mainly concerned with topping the other in the special-effect department. And, by slightly tweaking the formulaic format so as not to turn off its huge fan base but at the same time keeping up with the world trends in its push for new audience members, it succeeds in accomplishing its mercenary aims.

Bond films also display a superficial kind of sophistication, something that appeals to the readers of magazines like Playboy. You can also add on to the fan base those who have always gone to the cinema for the thrill of lightweight escapist fare and have fallen in love with the cool Bond character. The film still employs all its reliable formula traits, and the highlight gadget in this one is an invisible Bond car. That gadget and the others displayed by Q (Cleese) get the usual Bond treatment in an emergency. The same usual treatment goes for Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), who as the running gag goes still yearns for Bond in vain.

The film opens as Madonna sings the dreary song that has the same title as the pic, as the action spills across the screen with firebombs and bodies flying all over the chilly North Korean coastline and Bond enduring many sessions of torture by his cruel captors. Mrs. Ritchie also shows up later as a seductive fencing instructor dressed in black leather, who could also be mistaken for an S&M madame if she were to appear as a contestant on the old “What’s My Line” TV show.

This Bond, the 20th such, starts its adventure in a land mine field off the coast of North Korea, where OO7 (Pierce Brosnan, who is 49-years-old and though physically fit still is getting to look a little weary around the edges) drops in to interrupt a diamonds for weapons of mass destruction deal made in the de-militarized zone. But he’s betrayed by an unknown double-agent and captured by President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” evildoers — the North Koreans — after an exciting special-effect influenced Hovercraft chase and is tortured for 14 months while imprisoned before he’s exchanged for a dangerous North Korean named Zao (Rick Yune). He’s the malevolent Colonel Moon’s number one henchman. The scrubby bearded and bruised one is barely recognizable as the Bond everyone knows.

Supposedly Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) was killed in the ensuing chase, as he’s the one secretly preparing for another world war as he chases his dream to make North Korea with him as its leader the ruler of the world. He figures to do this by acquiring the world’s most powerful weapon and using it against the west because of a lasting hatred he harbors against them despite being educated at Harvard and Oxford.

Upon his release Bond is taken aboard a British warship docked in Hong Kong and is told by his boss M (Judi Dench) that he’s not useful anymore as an agent because under North Korean interrogation he gave up another agent. Bond escapes and flees to a ritzy Hong Kong hotel where he’s recognized in the lobby by the manager and given the best room in the joint even though he appears unkempt bearded like a bum, has no wallet or shoes on. The hotel manager is really an agent for the Chinese commies, and Bond talks him into a deal where he will kill Zao for them if they can drop him off where he now is. It seems Zao killed three of their agents, and the Chinese commies have no problem with this deal.

The next stop is Cuba (actually filmed in Spain) where Bond contacts Raul (Echevarría), a crime boss/cigar maker, and finds out through him that a smug, sleazy Icelandic magnate and publicity seeker named Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) has manufactured the same pure diamonds that came from Africa and is running a mirrored-laser satellite for clearing mines from the Korean border’s DMZ; and, that his diamonds were involved in the illegal “African Conflict Diamonds” trade (whatever the hell that pablum means!). Before he leaves Cuba Bond has sex with Jinx (Halle Berry), whose name is derived because she was born on Friday the 13th. He meets her on the Cuban beach when attracted to how sexy and bronzed she looks in an Ursula Andress type of orange bikini as she comes out of the blue sea after a swim with a knife holstered by her side (a pose Sports Illustrated would be proud of). He then sneaks into a top-secret gene altering clinic on the isla Los Organos and intercepts Zao, whose face is now embedded with diamonds, before he can get a facial and DNA makeover. But Zao escapes. Bond with the help of Jinx, who is an American NSA agent, blows up the clinic and kills the chief doctor and too many other personnel to establish an accurate body count (Where’s General Westmoreland when you need him?).

In this globe-trotting adventure Bond arrives next in London, has a nifty fencing duel with Gustav and meets his number one assistant Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike). M also reestablishes contact with him, and says with the info he has about Gustav’s diamonds he can now be useful again as she puts him back on the case and tells him they’ve suspected Gustav is involved with the North Koreans but have no proof. They even have infiltrated his organization by planting their agent Frost to spy on Gustav, as she toils as his efficient publicist. Bond is sent to Iceland and onto the set of a spectacular Icelandic ice palace to team up with the frosty Frost, and Jinx also shows up unexpectedly working the American side of things. Her nervous boss Falco (Madsen) gives her the OK to work with Bond.

The film was mildly absorbing in its usual ridiculous way until the last forty minutes when everything becomes all too predictable and the action becomes too vulgar to be witty, as the real villains are exposed and the unflappable Bond takes care of business in the professional way he always has. The only slight change in the formula is that he’s helped by another equally steely professional, Jinx, who happens not only to be a woman but an African-American (Halle seemed to have no heart or conviction for these action scenes and the only impression one has of her comes from seeing her in a bikini). Satisfied fans can relax that not much has changed in a Bond film, this is still a technician’s delight of a movie and the Bond character’s charms still remain on the callow side and the Bond women still fit a niche that exploits their sexuality more than showing off their acting skills. I suppose, why fix something that’s not broke. Box office and not critical analysis will determine if anything more drastic has to be done to pump up Bond for future episodes. New Zealander Lee Tamahori (“The Edge“/”Once Were Warriors” ) directs in a workmanlike fashion, while the special effects gurus outdo themselves with the ice-bound car chase scene with the invisible car and I suppose if you care for impossible stunts, there’s the one with Bond surfing down the face of a glacier being melted by a laser beam from space. That one was too much for me to stomach, as all the twaddle was starting to get to me coming down the homestretch.

Die Another Day movie poster

REVIEWED ON 12/29/2002 GRADE: C +