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James Bond 'Never Dies'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 1997

  Movie Critic

Tomorrow Never Dies
Pierce Brosnan stars as James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies." (MGM-UA)

Roger Spottiswoode
Pierce Brosnan;
Jonathan Pryce;
Michelle Yeoh;
Teri Hatcher;
Joe Don Baker;
Judi Dench;
Desmond Llewellyn
Running Time:
2 hours
For sexual situations and violence
After 35 years and 17 movies, no one goes to James Bond films in search of mind-shattering surprises. "Tomorrow Never Dies" isn't one of the great Bonds, by any means. But it's familiar, flashy and enjoyable in all the right places.

Hey, just the sight of those circles arranging themselves into the 007 logo at the beginning of the movie, as composer John Barry's well-known Bond theme rumbles away, is enough to whet the appetite. But I'm ready to fall asleep when the time comes to storm the fortress; hate the fortress.

When one of Her Majesty's boats is destroyed in Vietnamese waters -- apparently by Chinese MiG jets -- Bond's investigation leads him to Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a British media mogul on the verge of launching a global news network. It seems that Carver's tabloid newspaper (called Tomorrow) had its headlines ready before anyone announced the incident.

As Bond, Pierce Brosnan takes us through this mission with panache, an unpretentious attitude and some excellent Brioni suits. Sexually speaking, he's still an old rascal, but his bedroom capers are too chaste to really offend parents. And he kills only in the line of duty. You have to like the guy.

We know walking in that Carver will prove to be a psychologically questionable super-villain hellbent on world domination. We know, too, that Bond will exploit the sophisticated gadgetry supplied by his irascible armorer, Q (Desmond Llewellyn); that there will be sexual encounters -- one of them with slinky Teri Hatcher, who plays Carver's wife and one of Bond's old flames. Ditto the hair-raising stunts involving the destruction of Q's precious vehicles (in this case, a remote-controlled, bulletproof BMW), the funny lines, the exotic locales and that aforementioned battle at the crime lord's impregnable lair.

The Bond scenario hasn't changed since 1964's "Goldfinger," in which 007 (a young Sean Connery) tangled with Goldfinger, Odd-job and the karate-kicking Pussy Galore. That film -- the third in the series - established a virtual template for every Bond movie that followed. Yet we keep coming back, because we crave new sensations grounded in the familiar.

Producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who inherited the Bond enterprise from the late Albert R. Broccoli, have the Bond formula down to a science. Creativity in their line of business amounts to recycling and repolishing old routines.

Case in point: the double-entendre. When Bond gets the call from HQ urging him to pursue the MiG matter, for instance, he's entwined in bed with a Danish language teacher. "Brushing up on a little Danish," he explains to Secret Service secretary, Miss Moneypenny (Samantha Bond).

There are some other pleasures: The casting of the charming Michelle Yeoh, for example, as Wai Lin, the Bond "good" girl, i.e., the one who will team with him and resist his charms until -- well, you know. Yeoh, a big star in Asian action pictures, has a fluid roundhouse kick and a wonderful screen personality.

As the one-dimensional Carver, Pryce doesn't have much to work with. But he has a wonderful moment when, before the captured Wai Lin, he sarcastically mimics her whooping, fist-swinging kung fu style.

The best elements, for my money, are the stunts, which are chiefly the work of the second-unit director, Vic Armstrong. At one point, Bond and Wai Lin -- who are handcuffed together -- leap on to a BMW motorbike and attempt to escape a relentless helicopter by speeding through teeming masses in claustrophobic Asian streets. And in the movie's standout set piece, Bond evades a gang of nasty customers by operating his BMW with a remote control phone in the back seat. These scenes are where Bond films earn their money. And if you're game, that's the reason to go.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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