Monday, April 11, 2011

Review – Never Say Never Again

April 11, 2011

Never Say Never Again – US/UK, 1983

Where does one begin with Never Say Never Again? I could start by citing my belief that the only reason to remake a film is to somehow make it better. However, with all the legal constraints placed on Never Say Never Again, I’m not sure that was possible. I could ask the million dollar question - Why remake Thunderball in the first place? – yet legally it was the only option available to them, seeing as how they didn’t have the rights to any other Bond story. What the filmmakers did have going for them was Sean Connery, who had been lured back to the Bond role after famously swearing that he would never again play it, a fact that renders the title little more than an inside joke. However, not even Connery’s somewhat energetic performance is enough to save Never Say Never Again from being both tedious and uneventful.

In this version of the Bond universe, the 007s have fallen out of favor, partly due to their unruly tactics and the heavy financial burden that comes with employing them. The agency also has a new head, and as Bond tells us, since his arrival, he has had little use for the 007s. To test their effectiveness, he has had Bond engaging in war games for two weeks, one of which we see in the film’s opening scene. In the scene, we see Bond attack a criminal compound, kill at least six armed thugs, and rescue a damsel in distress. The entire exercise plays out to the tune of the terribly sappy theme song “Never Say Never Again,” creating the first of the film’s many blunders – a potentially great action scene is stripped of all of its thrills.

We soon follow a character into a bank and then down a secret staircase into an underground lair where a rather menacing man holding a white cat is briefing his cohorts about the state of their illicit operations. Eventually, he gets around to discussing his latest criminal plan: the theft of two atomic warheads. The plan involves a coerced air force captain, a bunch of deep sea divers, and a surgically implanted replica of one of the president of the United States’ eyes. Bond just happens to stumble upon the plan at a hospital where he is supposed to be undergoing tests and getting back into shape. Soon the 007s are reactivated, and Bond is in hot pursuit of Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the man he suspects of knowing the whereabouts of the two missiles. It’s a promising premise. If only what followed were more interesting.

Never Say Never Again appears to be trying to be two films. The first one is of an older Bond, of a secret agent whose body is no longer what it once was and who may be in the twilight of an illustrious career. We even see an older Q (Alec McCowen), who in a very nice scene reminisces about the good old days while looking for gadgets that Bond can take with him. There’s a lot of promise in this idea. However, it’s clear that no one knew what to do with it. You can’t realistically have an older Bond defeat villains who are much younger and more physically fit if you emphasize how much age has slowed down Bond, and so the efforts to get Bond in better shape are played for laughs. In one scene, Bond’s personal trainer (female of course) brings him a rather healthy dinner. He opens his briefcase and reveals a meal that is much more appropriate for a night of romance and wooing. The scene is clever, and I suppose that that’s the Bond they thought the audience would rather see. However, I can’t help thinking it was a missed opportunity.

The film quickly dispenses with the older Bond storyline and adopts one that we’re more used to seeing in Bond films, one which relies on action and the many women who enter Bond’s world. The film gives us its version of a “super villain” early during a scene in which Bond is lifting weights. We also get an unintentionally funny scene in which Bond is pursued by a shark and later scenes in an African castle and a submerged submarine. However, the action scenes seem tired, and Bond’s trysts with women are more unbelievable than usual, especially when you consider which side one them turns out to be on later in the film. I kid you not, at one point, a character even delays killing Bond because she wants him to put on paper that she was the best lover he’s ever had. Kim Basinger appears in the role Domino Petachi, a dancer who is also the sister of the air force captain SPECTRE used earlier in the film. Domino literally dances her way through scene after scene and never reveals any semblance of a personality, especially not one that Largo would trust or that Bond would be interested in. Perhaps their interest in her is due to her habit of prouncing about in particularly revealing exercise clothes.

Never Say Never Again was directed by Irvin Kirshner, who just three years earlier had directed The Empire Strikes Back, which many consider to be the greatest film in the Star Wars series. His resume would make him seem like an ideal director for a Bond film, but there’s not much he could do to save Never Say Never Again. A few scenes sparkle with energy, yet too many of them are likely to elicit looks of sheer incredulity. At one point, Bond becomes cornered while riding a motorcycle. The henchmen surrounding him then force him and his bike into a long cargo truck. As the henchmen rejoice maniacally at their supposed feat, Bond simply revs up his motorcycle and uses the rising door as a ramp to jump to safety. This is one those moments when I would have called for a script doctor, and there are many more like this. Too many, in fact. Don’t even get me started on the abrupt ending of the underwater battle between Bond and Largo. All in all, Never Say Never Again is a mess, and only Connery and Brandauer save it from being a complete waste of time. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 stars

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