Once, all the world went gaga over James Bond.
Now, James Bond is going dada all over "The World Is Not Enough."
It's true. The new Bond movie is pure nonsense art of the dadaist school; it follows the rules of the ridiculous as it turns narrative convention, thriller formula and special-effects set pieces into a manifesto of the purest gibberish. To see it is to walk out of the theater scrambled, wondering where in the hell you are, if you are anyplace at all, and even that is in doubt.
It must be a giant joke played on us by those merry pranksters at MGM. Or perhaps Pierce Brosnan is angry that his excellent remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair" made so small a dent at the box office that he has decided to give the public what he thinks is appropriate to its IQ: two hours of 'splosions and speedboats and machine guns arranged randomly, lacking beginning, middle or even end, or any connective tissue, while spotlighting some of the most vapid dialogue and some of the most vacant performances in history. It's pure dada, as revolutionary in its way as Marcel Duchamp's stunt of painting a mustache on the "Mona Lisa" to stun the bourgeoisie.
It seems to be about--stop me if you've heard this one before--the ace stud of the British Secret Service being sent as a bodyguard for the recently orphaned daughter--unaccountably French--of a British oil billionaire who is trying to fulfill her father's dream of building an oil pipeline along the southern route out of Azerbaijan! Yes. You're supposed to root for the pipeline builders, who are seen rounding up peasants at gunpoint! Now, as no one would or could believe this, it's clearly a joke.
Then halfway through, when that story has lost what little steam it had--largely on account of Sophie Marceau's impenetrable accent and Robert Carlyle's limp impersonation of an anarchist who believes only in disorder (he would have changed his mind if he'd read the script)--the movie starts all over again. This time it's a parody of the George Clooney non-hit "The Peacemaker," about terrorists who steal a nuclear warhead from a Russian missile silo for deployment against the West. The two stories are only marginally connected, and how Cmdr. Bond walks from one into the other is a mystery that only Scully and Mulder could solve.
But the second story at least has the spectacle of Denise Richards in her astonishing performance. ("Astonishing!"--Hunter, The Post.) I am sure this young American woman is a terrific human being, a good citizen, and can really dance well, but as an actress she gives a tree slug a run for its money in the expression category. Admittedly, she's made to say stupid things, but she says them so dim-bulbishly with such lightless eyes and in such a childish monotone that you wonder if her parents knew where she was. Putting her in this movie seems almost like child abuse.
Meanwhile, Brosnan is walking about as if he hasn't noticed he's in the picture show. He can barely be bothered to read his lines. The performance is mainly a matter of displaying the fit of his suits. We all understand that the only remaining part of Bond's retro charm is his coolness, his refusal to ruffle, but has anyone put a mirror under Pierce's nostrils recently? What's his pulse rate, -32? Has it been ascertained beyond a doubt that he is actually alive? Is this some stunt of cryogenics, the first movie star to get through an entire performance while biologically frozen solid as a cod?
Even the gags seem lackluster this umpteenth time through. The opening speedboat chase through London--by the way, when did London become Venice, and did it make the front page?--is pretty tame unless you get excited by splashing and a bit where guys in snowmobiles with parachutes chase downhill a 22-year-old stunt skier dressed sort of, but not very much, like Bond.
Worst of all is a ride through the pipeline in some kind of vague contrivance that looks like the pneumatic tubes from old-time newsrooms when they sent remakes down to composing in the last few minutes before deadline. I kept waiting for a big hand to reach in, pull him out and yell "New Page One for the Five-Star!"
It does get a little better at the end, with Bond and Richards's Dr. Christmas Jones (yes!) fleeing up the shaft of a vertically implanted nuclear sub being chased by a wall of propane flame.
But really. "The World Is Not Enough" shows that Bond has gotten shaky, not stirring.
The World Is Not Enough (128 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for phony movie violence and phony sexual innuendo.
CAPTION: It's all downhill from there: This pyrotechnic thriller, with Pierce Brosnan as 007, contains more stunts than sense.
CAPTION: Judi Dench in "The World Is Not Enough," a movie perhaps not quite fit for a queen.