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Bond film is exciting, but lacks humor and fun

Tomorrow Never Dies

The James Bond series is the longest running and most successful series in the history of film. Prior to Tomorrow Never Dies were 17 other Bond films, beginning with Dr. No in 1962, and ending with GoldenEye in 1995. The Bond players ranged from Sean Connery (obviously the most popular) to Roger Moore, to Timothy Dalton, and then to the recent Pierce Brosnan. Who is the best Bond? That depends on who you ask. Most will say Connery was the best, but if you ask the new generation of Bond viewers, they will say Brosnan. Who do I think is the best Bond? That's irrelevent (though I prefer Brosnan) because the Bond series is not about who plays Bond, but about how much action and wacky gadgets can be shoved into two hours of entertainment.

Unfortunately, Tomorrow Never Dies isn't as fun or as entertaining as the many of its predecessors, and certainly not as much as GoldenEye was. Pierce Brosnan seems much more comfortable in the Bond role, and this benefits his character, but other aspects of the film suffer, and the result is a mildly entertaining two hour waste of time. After this film is over, you more than likely will not remember anything from it. Tomorrow Never Dies (what does the title have to do with the movie anyway?) left me wanting more, and I only hope that next time around, they will give me just that.

Tomorrow Never Dies begins with the usual shtick: a visceral opening title sequence (which almost resembles GoldenEye's too closely) with a nice song by Sheryl Crow. Beginning with a rather dull action scene, Tomorrow Never Dies made me feel that the film should be titled James Bond Never Dies. However, that is besides the point, as Bond is never supposed to die. He escapes death many times, but always gets the girl and the car in the end. The only problem with this is that the Bond films have become hopelessly predictable, to the point of crashing in on itself. At one point, audiences are going to get tired of the usual routine. No real threat is posed to Bond, and a lot of the suspense that could be gained is lost. We all know what is going to happen, but some surprises along the way add a lot to the film, including the entrance of Chinese Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh). Wai Lin is a kick-ass Bond girl, unlike all the rest I have seen. I guess every Bond film needs to have one interesting woman in it (GoldenEye had Famke Janssen, though she was a villain).

But this brings up a good point: do we want the Bond series to change? Most audiences are satisfied with the way Bond films play out, and producers are more than happy to stick to a regular set of rules. Bond must survive, he must have access to a ton of impressive gadgets, and the action sequences must be intense. Bond films regularly have action scenes which defy belief. Tomorrow Never Dies has several of them, including an intense chase through a parking lot driven by remote from the back of the car. Bond is being chased by ruthless criminals working for media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), the owner of the Carver Media Group. This company wants to become a monopoly and take over the media industry. Carver wants to create the news in order to get premier coverage of the events. Of course, he also has a more sinister plot in mind. He plans on starting a war with China, and blaming the fatal bombing on Britain. This way, he can destroy the only country which has not allowed his broadcasts to be shown.

Tomorrow Never Dies does reach some new ground, adding Wai Lin and making good use of the underused BMW of GoldenEye. Wai Lin is the most fun to watch this time around, though I had a difficult time watching the action scenes consisting of just her and some Chinese adversaries. For some reason, whenever these scenes come along, they seem to be placed into fast-forward, making all the movements quick and jerky. It seems that all Chinese action scenes are done in this style (I'm not sure if it is the actors, or the film type, but it is annoying). Jackie Chan is no different. However, Michelle Yeoh appears to be having a lot of fun, especially when she is handcuffed to Pierce Brosnan. The scenes with her and Brosnan are filled with sexual tension, and the extended chase scene on the motorcycle is incredibly well choreographed. As for the BMW, it provides one of the best sequences of the film. Bond uses his remote control to drive the car from the backseat, and this creates a brilliantly choreographed chase sequence. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of these scenes to power the film to its conclusion.

Director Roger Spottiswoode does a great job with the action scenes, and we never get confused as to what is going on. However, this is his first Bond film, and it shows in the pacing. Many scenes seem obligatory, as the one with Brosnan and Yeoh showering in the streets, with Yeoh wearing a white T-shirt, and Brosnan shirtless. The writing, by Bruce Feirstein, is a notch lower than his GoldenEye, but this time around, it lacks the humor and smart-ass one-liners. Sometimes Feirstein hits just the right note with hilarious remarks, but most often, his script comes across as amateurish. The production design is quite remarkable, with some nice sets for the action to take place in. However, the cinematography is the best thing in the film, with the highlight being a very fast look from a rocket's point of view. The special effects are very good, with huge explosions and spectacular stunts. It seems that Tomorrow Never Dies tries to go for the "less is better than more" approach, but paradoxically, more would have been better. The screenplay provides some dry romance between Bond and Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher, from TV's "Lois and Clark") which lacks chemistry due mostly to Hatcher (which I hate saying, as I love Hatcher as an actress).

Hatcher is the weakest actor among the cast, but her role is cut short due to unexpected plot twists. Pierce Brosnan, in my opinion, is the best Bond. He provides all the charisma the character requires, and then adds a heroic attitude without showing fear. Brosnan is exactly how I see James Bond in my mind. Michelle Yeoh gives a very good performance, nearly stealing the film from Brosnan. Hopefully she will be included in the next Bond film. Jonathan Pryce gives a terrific performance as Elliot Carver, providing us with one of the best villains in the Bond series. His character is charismatic, but cruel and ruthless. He is also very determined to get what he wants, even if that means beginning a war. Judi Dench and Desmond Llewelyn both gives good performances as M and Q (respectively). The rest of the cast seems to be just small cutouts of characters, with the exception of Joe Don Baker. Baker gives one of the best performances as Wade, Carver's evil henchman.

Tomorrow Never Dies is rated PG-13 for violence, partial nudity, language, and suspense during a ship sinking (appearing remarkably similar to Titanic). This ship sinking is one of the highlights of an entertaining film. Unfortunately, it isn't as fun as it could or should have been. The direction seems off, with a little nervousness by the director, showing in several scenes. The writing is below par, and the action could have been increased. But as a waste for two hours, Tomorrow Never Dies is a good choice if, perhaps, Titanic sells out.

*** out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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