Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Film Review: Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again
  • Publisher: Warner Bros. / Orion
  • Production Studio: Taliafilm / Producers Sales Organization
  • Release: 8 October 1983 (USA), 15 October 1983 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Irvin Kershner
  • Producer: Jack Schwartzman
  • Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais, Lorenzo Semple Jr.

The Bond: Sean Connery comes back for one more encore. And this isn't just some attempt by the studios to compete with the EON-produced Octopussy, although they very well might have capitalised on it. No, Connery had been working with Kevin McClory on this remake of Thunderball for almost a decade before it came out. As for the results? Nothing to write home about; Sir Sean's performance here seems to have been sedated by old age; he was 52 when the movie began filming in 1982. Not that post-middle age actors can't bring the heat; heck, Chuck Norris broke 60 during his run on Walker: Texas Ranger. But yeah, no such magic here. 2 out of 5.

The Girl: Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger), mistress of Largo and sister of USAF pilot Jack Petachi (Gavan O'Herlihy). I called her Thunderball counterpart, Domino Derval, one of the most sympathetic Bond Girls, but while miss Petachi shares her situation, her performance this time around is, I don't know how to say it... "Bay-singer". I looked it up. No, seriously, her performance was less "with-it", but it's not all bad -- read my comments on the villain for more. 4 out of 5.

Other Allies: Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson, from Mr. Bean), 007's contact from the British Embassy in the Bahamas. This bumbling contact could've been much more annoying had he had more screen time. Fun Fact: this was Atkinson's first feature-film role. 2 out of 5.

Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey), returning CIA agent. It may seem weird to some for Leiter to be played by an African-American in this canon (not that it's a bad thing), but then along comes Casino Royale... Stay tuned.  2 out of 5.

Nicole (Saskia Cohen Tanugi), a French agent and contact. Drowned in a bathtub by Blush after very little screen time. 1 out of 5.

The Villain: Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the number-1 officer of SPECTRE (so, does Blofeld serve under him now?), and engineer of their plot, code-named The Tears of Allah. He may have traded in the eyepatch for an even thicker accent (almost like Dracula?), but if there's anything he has over the Largo from Thunderball, it's that he develops his relationship with Domino better this time around. Shot with a harpoon by Domino.  4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Fatima Blush (Barbara Carerra), assassin and number-12 officer of SPECTRE. Her fashion sense is insane, even by 1980s standards, but her fem-dom performance is one of the best examples of camp this movie has to offer -- and that's saying something. Shot and blown up by Bond's exploding pen-dart5 out of 5.

The Gadgets: A fountain pen that shoots explosive darts, a motorcycle with rocket jets, a laser watch (pre-dating Goldeneye by 12 years), and a bomb hidden in a cigarette case that really is just an unarmed cigarette case. Inspired, that last one. 4 out of 5.

The Locations: England, the Bahamas, France, and unspecified locations in northern Africa and/or the Middle East.

The Opening Credits: Instead of having dedicated credits and pre-credits sequences, the opening puts the credits on top of 007 in a training mission. So, it would be unfair to rate this aspect against the same criteria I've been using for those from the EON series.

The Theme Song: Performed by Lani Hall. Like the last few theme songs, it's another female solo performance trying and failing to emulate Shirley Bassey's first effort, but thanks to its co-producers Sergio Mendes and Herp Albert, it gets adapted into some quality lounge music at points throughout the film. 4 out of 5.

I do have to give a wag of the finger to the rest of the film's score. See, since they were unable to use the classic John Barry theme (see below), they brought on composer Michel Legrand. Some of his cues, in particular the one just before the motorcycle chase, sound - of all things - reminiscent of a Chuck Jones cartoon. Not exactly the image you want to go for when 007 is involved.

The Novel: By now, you've probably noticed that this movie is nothing more than a remake of Thunderball, and there's a reason for that. If you would care to look back at my review on that movie, you'll recall that Kevin McClory sued Ian Fleming over who created the scenario. As a result of the lawsuit, Kevin McClory eventually took back the rights to the plot and its new characters, including the SPECTRE organisation. (Which is why, until the release of Spectre in 2015, the EON-canon universe has avoided bringing it up wherever possible.) He was also given the rights to make a James Bond movie of his own; however it had to be a remake of the story he helped create. And thus we get Never Say Never Again, or as I like to call it, '80s Thunderball.

The Plot: The film opens with 007 on a mission at a drug lord's jungle villa. He breaks in and rescues a female captive, only for him to stab him in the back... but surprise surprise, it was all an MI6 training exercise. Displeased with 007's performance, M assigns Bond to the Shrublands clinic for some forced rehab. At the clinic, his suspicions are aroused by a mister Jack Petachi, a USAF pilot and heroin addict, under the care of Fatima Blush, executive Number 12 of SPECTRE. Bond breaks into Petachi's room, and a SPECTRE assassin returns the favour by trying to kill Bond during a workout. After leaving Shrublands, Petachi heads over to a nearby USAF base for a training exercise involving cruise missiles. With one of his eyes having been "fixed" by SPECTRE to match that of the American president, he sneaks away and programs a machine to load nuclear warheads into the dummy missiles. The test proceeds as normal, until the missiles are radar-jammed and crash-land into the Atlantic Ocean, enabling a SPECTRE team to steal the bombs. The head of SPECTRE announces a bounty of potentially billions of dollars for the bombs, lest two random targets be attacked with them. MI6 reactivates the 00 section to begin the search.

Upon receiving his file, 007 starts his investigation in Nassau, meeting Nigel Small-Fawcett, a contact from the British Embassy, and Fatima Blush, the lady from Shrublands. Bond and Blush make love on a boat, but she tries to kill him twice: once during a diving excursion and one in his hotel room. Bond survives both attempts on his life, and learns from Small-Fawcett that Largo's yacht, the Flying Saucer, is moving from Nassau to Nice, France. Bond follows and catches up with Domino, learning about a charity fundraiser being held by Largo at a casino that night. Upon meeting Largo at the event, he is challenged to a video game and wins, but turns down his winnings in favour of a tango with Domino, where he tells her the truth about her brother.

Bond returns from the casino to discover one of his allies dead and Blush making a getaway. He follows her on a Q-branch motorbike, but she trips him up. Cornered at gunpoint, he tricks her into letting him take out another of his gadgets, an exploding-dart pen, and kill her with it. With Blush out of the way, Bond sneaks aboard the Flying Saucer and is "welcomed" by Largo, but manages to send an SOS message to MI6. The yacht takes them to Palmyra, a North African castle, where Bond is imprisoned (whilst learning that one of the bombs is planted at the White House in Washington) and Domino is auctioned off to some Arabs. Of course, Bond breaks out, snatches back Domino, and the two are picked up by the US Navy. They learn that while the White House bomb has been defused, the other still threatens an unspecified Arabian oil field. Domino helps them pick a starting point thanks to a gem pendant given to her by Largo, which features a map of the area.

Bond and Leiter sneak behind the SPECTRE team through some caves, but Largo blocks off the route behind him. While the Navy provides covering fire, Bond goes back and around to catch up with Largo and the bomb. Before Largo can shoot Bond with his speargun, he himself gets speared by Domino, and the bomb is defused. All said and done, Bond and Domino catch some R&R in a tropical villa when they are interrupted by Small-Fawcett, who pleads 007 to return to Her Majesty's Secret Service. Instead, Bond says, "Never again", and winks at the camera. You are now free to turn off your TV.

I'm assuming you have learned your lesson by now: this is Thunderball for the 1980s. In fact, I'd like to call this the most '80s out of all the James Bond films. Heck, when you replace a round of Baccarat with a video game, there's no way you can bounce back from that. Which is a shame, because it copied a lot of the good from Thunderball as well, including the plot and the plight of our heroine. Considering that it's not part of the true Bond canon, it's not a total loss by any means. In fact, unlike the other non-EON entry which I skipped over, it follows the Bond formula closely enough -- for a reason -- that I decided to put it in as part of my 007 Golden Jubilee (yeah, I'm giving this celebration a proper name now). 4 out of 5.

The Call: 75% (B-)

IchigoRyu will return in
A View To A Kill

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