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"DIE ANOTHER DAY"
(2002) (Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: After being set up and tortured for more than a year in a North Korean prison, British spy James Bond sets out to get revenge on those who wronged him, including a villain who wants to start and win a war.
PLOT:
British secret James Bond (PIERCE BROSNAN) has been sent to North Korea to assassinate renegade military leader Colonel Moon (WILL YUN LEE). The plan goes awry, however, and Moon is apparently killed, his second-in-charge, Zao (RICK YUNE), is injured and Bond is captured. After 14 months of torture and interrogation, he's released in exchange for Zao, but discovers that his own government and boss, M (JUDI DENCH), believe he's damaged goods. Accordingly, she rescinds his spy status.

Wanting to regain that and get revenge on those who set him up and wronged him, Bond follows a lead and heads for Cuba where he meets Raoul (EMILIO ECHEVARRIA) and learns of an undercover operation involving DNA transplants to give people new identities. He also meets and beds the sultry Jinx (HALLE BERRY) who happens to be an American spy working to disrupt that operation.

After an encounter with Zao that leads to more clues, Bond heads for London to meet flamboyant businessman Gustav Graves (TOBY STEPHENS) who deals in diamonds, some of which were found on Zao. Following a fencing match that turns into something far more intense, Graves invites Bond to Iceland where, with the aid of publicist Miranda Frost (ROSAMUND PIKE) and inventor Vlad (MICHAEL GOREVOY), he's preparing to unveil an invention named Icarus. An orbiting satellite, the invention can provide a great deal of light and energy wherever it's directed on the Earth.

Equipped with various high-tech gadgets courtesy of Q (JOHN CLEESE), Bond must deal with various heavies such as Zao and Mr. Kil (LAWRENCE MAKOARE) as he tries to figure out how Graves his involved with the situation and must then stop the villains from unleashing their nefarious plan.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
For most movies, music is an integral part of them, whether it's for selling soundtracks or putting and/or getting the viewer in the right mood or frame of mind. When it comes to some movies - think of "Jaws" or "Psycho" - the music is often as memorable as the movie itself.

For others, such as the "Star Wars" films, the familiar opening orchestral notes get one giddy in anticipation of what's to follow. That's also certainly the case with the James Bond films. For the past 40 years, that opening theme has preceded the gadgets, babes, double entendres, martinis and outrageous stunts and action set pieces that collectively related to Ian Fleming's world-renowned British spy.

Yet, all of that's part of the problem in the 20th Bond film, "Die Another Day." Granted, it's been a long time since the series offered much of anything particularly novel or unexpected. Even so, such repetition has often been part of the charm and the cast and crew usually come up with and play off enough engaging bits that the films have been fun to behold in a familiar way.

Presumably fearing that and recognizing the threat of younger oriented fare such as "XXX," writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade ("The World is Not Enough," "Plunkett & Macleane") and director Lee Tamahori ("Along Came a Spider," "The Edge") have decided to give 007 a hip and edgier veneer and feel. The result may appeal to those weaned on MTV style visuals consisting of suddenly sped up film and slow motion footage.

For everyone else, however, this might come off like a stirred rather than shaken martini. The difference might be subtle, but it's certainly noticeable. The result is probably the least entertaining or engaging Bond film since star Pierce Brosnan took over the role back in 1995.

That's not to say that the film is without its winning or fun moments. Most of the stunts and visual effects are topnotch - except for one sequence that's so fake that it's painful to watch - and several of the action set pieces are thrilling.

For those who like the usual Bond trademarks - such as those double entendres, etc. - they're also present and some other material provides for some decent laughs. Most notable is that involving John Cleese ("Rat Race," the "Harry Potter" films) as techno-guru Q and some new as well as old Bond gadgets.

Even so, much of the overall effort feels out of step with and a bit desperate to outdo its predecessors. That starts with Bond not escaping the pre-credit action sequence that's actually rather bland despite the accompanying mayhem and which precedes what's arguably the worst Bond film title song (performed by Madonna).

Instead, the super spy is captured, tortured and after 14 months comes out looking like John "American Taliban" Walker. After that, he's essentially rejected by his own agency - personified by Judi Dench ("The Importance of Being Earnest," "Iris") - and then sets out with a personal vendetta to get those who wronged him. While that gives the character even more human characteristics than Brosnan has previously brought to the part, it doesn't feel right.

The allure of Bond is in the suave, debonair and unflappable attributes he possesses and the fact that he can get out of any fix in which he finds himself, rather than acting out of some sort of vigilante justice. That part thankfully doesn't overwhelm the more traditional elements, but there's enough of it present to tarnish what we've come to love and expect about the character and films.

Then there's the fact that these films are often only as good as the main villains or their henchmen. Unfortunately, Toby Stephens ("Possession," "Cousin Bette") and Will Yun Lee ("Witchblade," "What's Cooking?") aren't terribly interesting while the same holds true for Lawrence Makoare ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Rapa Nui") and Rick Yune ("The Fast and the Furious," "Snow Falling on Cedars") despite one's name (Mr. Kil) and the other's expensive, diamond-studded face.

As far as the action sequences, many of them fall victim to the same curse as the villains - namely that we've seen them or variations thereof done before and often better. Thus, it most of the effort appears to have been put into coming up with and staging more grandiose stunts than in actually making them work. While a fencing match turned sword battle works, the long sequence involving an invisible Aston Martin battling another souped-up luxury sports car with bombs and machine guns, et al. doesn't do much for engaging the viewer.

Regarding the much heralded and anticipated presence of Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball," "Swordfish") as the latest "Bond girl," she certainly looks the part and easily fits the bill. Whether it's initially emerging from the sea in a small bikini a la Ursula Andress in "Dr. No" or fighting the various villains, Berry easily holds her own opposite Brosnan.

Yet, beyond the obligatory innuendo and a roll in the sheets, there's little chemistry between the two. The same holds true for Rosamund Pike (making her feature film debut) as the standard number two Bond girl. While her demeanor fits in with her icy surroundings when the film eventually lands in Iceland, she's one of the weaker and least interesting such characters of recent in a Bond film.

As far as Brosnan ("The Tailor of Panama," "The Thomas Crown Affair") is concerned and notwithstanding the new character traits and direction, he still works quite well in the role. Even so, I can only imagine he's beginning to tire of the part after this fourth outing, and there are rumors he may be retiring soon.

If so, does that mean the end of the franchise? Considering the money that it makes, it's not likely. Let's just hope that more of the massive budget next time goes toward a better and more imaginative script and less on trying to outdo previous efforts via bigger, louder and more outrageous stunts and action.

As it stands, this film does suffer from that as well as not knowing when to wrap things up. While certainly not without its charms and clearly not a chore to sit through, the film isn't as fun or engaging as it should be. "Die Another Day" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 18, 2002 / Posted November 22, 2002


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