Die Another Day
2002, PG-13, 130 min. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 22, 2002
Outing No. 20 for Britain's suavest assassin comes at a price: Mainly, many aspects of Die Another Day seem cribbed from previous Bond films. There's Halle Berry's NSA agent Jinx rising up out of the tide break on a sun-blasted Havana beach (à la Ursula Andress in Dr. No) before being strapped down and nearly bisected by a bad guy's laser later in the film. The déjà vu doesn't stop there; many of Bond's rakish bon mots this time out seem ill-advised, poorly penned, or just plain boorish. It's one thing to have James Bond toss off a clever zinger as he wipes the cordite from his mitts (it's tradition, actually), but here it seems as though the lines were borrowed from a mothballed Schwarzenegger project (clinging to the bell tower of a North Korean temple as his hovercraft zooms out from beneath him Bond can only manage a weak “saved by the bell.” Ouch.) To be fair, Die Another Day isn't one of Ian Fleming's Bond adventures -- those ran out years ago -- and so the task of devising an entertaining Bond film has fallen to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who previously wrote The World Is Not Enough. They've tried mightily to keep the excitement that is the series' stock in trade flowing fast and unfettered, but even the film's opening action set-piece, which by rights should be a show stopper, seems silly: Bond and company surf their way into North Korea, where a complicated deal involving diamonds from Sierra Leone and a corrupt North Korean Army officer is going down. Once off his Ho-dad stick, Bond mucks up the transaction and engages in a grueling, 15mph hovercraft battle that ultimately lands him in Stalag 17. Tortured, beaten, and refused personal grooming accessories to the point that he begins to look not only like a martyr for Great Britain but for Christians everywhere, he eventually escapes and ends up in another globe-hopping adventure too spectacularly familiar to delve into here. Fans may argue that the Bond films are supposed to be interchangeable, and that this is what makes them so entertaining. Bosh, I say. When a Bond film has a title song as downright awful as this one does (Madonna's electroclashy yowlings do nothing for the film), and when so much of the film feels lifted, part and parcel, from previous secret agent outings, then something's amiss. Berry is delightful, as always, and her costume designer deserves an award of some sort, but even Dench and Cleese, as Bond's superiors M and Q, are given little to do here. While many of the stunts are cleverly designed, much of the action strikes me as poorly edited -- who, exactly, is shooting at whom? -- and there's far too much reliance on CGI that stands out against the more interesting opticals and model work. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that adrenalized rush of excitement that translates from the screen to the viewer when a Bond film tangibly crackles. Die Another Day just doesn't have it.