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Oh-Oh Heaven?

01/12/2002. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Die Another Day in the USA - or Buy Die Another Day in the UK

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Bond is back with Die Another Day. Is our Pierce the best thing since Sean put on a bow-tie and gave Goldfinger a slapping? Or is this more so-so heaven, rather than double 'O' heaven? Frank reviews.

Die Another Day (2002) MGM

2 hrs. 12 mins. Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune, Rosamund Pike, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Samantha Bond. Directed by: Lee Tamahori

Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

It’s remarkable that the James Bond 40-year old franchise is looking sharper and sleeker than ever. There have been a lot of contenders and pretenders that tried to rival Agent 007’s legendary espionage antics but after four decades nobody does it better than the debonair danger man with the penchant for sultry women, weapons, and worldwide adventure.

Filmmaker Lee Tamahori inherits the desired assignment to helm what appears to be the 20th installment of the Bond series in the sharp-witted and bouncy offering Die Another Day. Pierce Brosnan is back in his fourth outing as the British resilient rogue out to tame the evils of the world. And Brosnan, as usual, fits right into the probing playboy’s skin as he resumes his trademark tenacity as the spy with a score to settle.

Tamahori has clearly revitalized Bond’s relevance by serving up the cunning cad in a whole new electrifying presence. With sensationalistic fare such as the youth-friendly XXX appealing to target moviegoers, the expressionistic director realizes that the continued saga of the “licensed to kill” cultural icon desperately needed a facelift.

And so the enhancements were made. Bond appears more edgy and is refreshingly introspective. Oscar-winning beauty Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) gets to strut as a new kind of liberated Bond girl where she matches the superstud in wits and secret intelligence in side by side combat. Even pop diva Madonna climbs on board by singing the rousing title song and making a saucy cameo in the process. And the gadgetry involved reflects a tenacious technology that screams volumes of intense and enjoyable millennium-style mayhem.

No doubt Tamahori has risen to the occasion in assuring the box office staying power of James Bond and his recurring jolting journeys.

The film cleverly starts off in an unconventional fashion by unpredictably showing the normally crafty and elusive Bond as a victim of bad circumstances. The vulnerable super spy, courtesy of a botched mission involving some ominous arms deal, ends up spending over a year in captivity under torturous North Korean rule.

Eventually Bond is freed but unfortunately faces some scrutiny pertaining to his prior lengthy lockup. It seems that the savvy 007 now has to juggle some major skepticism about his loyalties therefore wearing the tag of sudden outcast.

The question is posed: did Bond have the loose lips that sunk ships? In other words, did the reliable agent break under pressure and expose his colleagues while being under the constraints of the intimidating enemy? Heck, even British Secret Service boss lady M (played by the respected Oscar-winning Judi Dench) is seriously cynical about her top agent and his potential betrayal.

While being banished based upon his uncertain trustworthiness, Bond escapes yet again from a sticky situation and is determined to clear his name and generate some positive buzz to save his reputation. Thus Agent 007 is off and about while embarking on a deadly yet exciting jaunt that will take him to colorful destinations around the globe including Cuba, Iceland and back east to Korea.

His focus: to track down billionaire baddie Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) and crazed sidekick Zao (Rick Yune). Since the dastardly duo is obviously gunning to take over the planet, Bond has to rigorously put a stop to their devious scheme while restoring his own credibility. And what would Bond be like if he didn’t consider getting some tasty curvy carnal candy in the process?

Well, that’s easy…he wouldn’t be James Bond period! So it’s both work and play for the jet-setting smooth operator who gets cozy with two boisterous babes (Berry and Rosamund Pike) who also play a significant part in partaking in Bond’s noteworthy quest for intrigue.

Die Another Day is sort of a strange departure from the prototypical Bond series in that the film is progressively cynical in its ability to folk over a darker protagonist in that of the defiant 007. Tamahori’s edition may have been tweaked to present Bond more as an anti-hero/outsider but he also knows when to rely on the standby sensationalism that has catapulted Agent 007 in the pop cultural stratosphere for well over a generation now.

The film takes its liberties in the outlandish department by demonstrating all the familiar things we associate with the elegant top British spy’s mantra: the opening sequence that hypnotizes us with the shapely women in silhouette, reckless stunts that come off as both eye-popping and inexplicably cartoonish, the exaggeration of grandiose gunplay and majestic explosions, larger than life villains, glorious gadgets such as Bond’s alluring Aston Martin, double entendre tongue-in-cheek moments, surreal sight gags (a posh ice hotel for instance), a bevy of Bond beauties, and creative fight sequences…just to name a few.

Overall, Tamahori dishes out a potent mixture of traditional and fresh elements that give this bounteous Bond flick a cherished surge it needs if it’s going to take on the new age of capturing the action-packed imaginations of moviegoers for the 21st century.

The movie is purely giddy and definitely pumps up the juices in its off kilter humor. At times Tamahori’s narrative has its spotty moments when some of the over-indulgent sequences feel like filler in order to take up screen time. Brosnan continues to apply his suited brand of charisma to the James Bond role that invites temptation of uncertainty, non-conformity, and a touch of cockiness.

Amazingly, Brosnan incorporates the selected traits of his four previous Bond predecessors and combines them effectively into his unique variation of the martini-sipping spy. Clearly Brosnan basks in the glory of his super-charged alter ego and goes along with the flow of this pulsating production.

The supporting cast is up to the task of giving this spry showcase its rollicking identity. As Bond girl Jinx, Berry gets to cut loose and become the equal sidekick of her “man” who’s as gifted and ruthless as her cunning male counterpart.

Berry’s Jinx is sassy and sexy and when she emerges out of the Cuban sea in that transfixing bikini of hers, you automatically acknowledge her homage to Dr. No’s original bombshell Ursula Andress and everything else that cinematically gave breath to the fictional livelihood of James Bond some 40 years ago.

The villains aren’t particularly memorable in this feature and are a mere throwback to the animated whackjobs of yesteryear. As heavies, Stephens’ Gustav Graves and Will Yun Lee’s North Korean madman A Col. Moon are mildly interesting yet their tepid sinister personas seem like old hat. When Bond combats these colorful characters, there’s really little sense of tension or sordid detail. The confrontations, whether they are aboard rusty Russian cargo planes or inside the crystal icy palace, are over-the-top encounters that provide some stimulating dosage of excitement.

Die Another Day does conjure up some reservations but for the most part, the movie does cater to the needs of Bond enthusiasts and other filmgoers who care to share in the topsy- turvy espionage universe behind the late mastermind Ian Fleming’s widely popular creation.

From the luscious cinematography of David Tattersall to the impressive and talented technicians that pump up the film’s overflowing velocity, Brosnan’s conflicted Bond and the associates who surround him in this globe-trotting event are on a collision course that’s dynamic and thoroughly involving.

Hopefully you’ll like the current meeting with the wily James Bond. But remember now, our tux-wearing soul-seeker likes his raucous missions shaken, not stirred. Die Another Day is indeed a view to a thrill.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2002

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