Die Another Day (2002)

Rating: **
Release Date: 11/22/02
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Kenneth Tsang, Judi Dench, John Cleese, cameo by Madonna

Even seeing babelicious Halle Berry with a gun doesn't save this disappointing outing, which gives the Hong Kong film industry a run for its money in the "Silly Action Film" category. Agent 007 James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) sneaks into North Korea tracking down a diamond smuggling operation and ends up being incarcerated and tortured by the North Korean government for fourteen months. An interesting turn of events allows him to be freed, but MI6 has abandoned him and he's got a score to settle. This leads him to Havana, where he meets up with NSA agent Jinx Johnson (luscious Halle Berry) and they have sex and blow things up. His reckless actions attract the attention of MI6 and M (Judi Dench) unofficially brings him back in to finish the diamond job. From here, he and Agent Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) go to Iceland to investigate a madman named Gustav Graves, who is your typical mentally unbalanced egomaniacal Bond villain. He has sex with Frost and blows things up, making the free world safe from terrorism once again.

While not as laugh-out-loud absurd as the previous "The World Is Not Enough" (1999), this film is still full of forehead slapping silliness and extreme lapses of reason. Thankfully, the action sequences are fairly exciting, and Bond actually gets to use his new car before destroying it. And speaking of the car... It's invisible. Good lord, how ridiculous can you get? Actually, I toyed around with the same cloaking idea in a story I was writing about ten years ago, but I couldn't figure out how to make it not come off as silly, so I abandoned the idea. To my satisfaction, this film proved my point. While there are no flying snowmobiles in this one (thank god), there are plenty of other head scratching devices, most notably the switchblade insertion vehicles at the end of the film, which just get ditched in North Korean soil. What was their purpose? It looked like all they needed to do was perform a high altitude low opening parachute jump - did these "sky sleds" allow them better precision, or just a more rapid descent? Who knows? But they were silly nonetheless. However, the biggest disappointment was the visual effects, which were often laughably bad. And what was up with the land mines? Maybe I don't understand how land mines work, but I was under the impression that you buried them. If they're just lying around on the surface, it doesn't seem like they would pose much of a threat - you just either pick them up and move them out of the way or walk around them. Hmmm...

As far as the actors are concerned, Pierce Brosnan does a fine job with the role, taking on more of a Timothy Dalton ruthlessness this time around (and the film certainly brings back memories of "License To Kill" (1989) ). Halle Berry comes off as a bit disappointing, but she handles herself nicely in a fight. Sadly, what could have been an excellent hand-to-hand showdown with her at the end was ruined by sloppy camerawork. The most pleasant surprise was seeing John Cleese take on the role of Q, which he does magnificently. His performance harkens back to the early days of the series, and invokes a certain feeling of nostalgia. But the biggest shock of all was seeing Hong Kong veteran Kenneth Tsang playing a Korean general. I remember reading that he died of lung cancer shortly after filming "The Replacement Killers" (1998), and I certainly hadn't seen him in anything since then. My jaw dropped into my lap when I saw him on the screen, which shattered my reality and caused me to question everything I held to be true. In the writing department, the film relies way too much on self referential humor and double entendre. However, I found the ornithology gag very clever and quite amusing.

Perhaps more entertaining than the film itself is all of the surrounding industry buzz. Reportedly the most expensive Bond film ever made, nearly half of the money was fronted by product placement people. Fortunately, this is hardly noticeable, making me wonder what good 45 million dollars in advertising did for anyone. What I find most curious about this is the "giant coup" regarding Smirnoff's departure from the franchise. I don't even remember which vodka got to proudly touch Brosnan's lips this time around, but I remember reading a dizzying magazine article about how big a deal this was for encouraging kids to drink their product. Whatever.

Naturally, there's already talk about Jinx getting her own spin-off film series, but we all know that'll never happen. Remember when it was a "done deal" that Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin character from "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) would star in her own series of Bond spin-offs? Did that ever happen? No. Has Ms. Yeoh even appeared in a domestic film at all in the last five years? No. Such is the Bond Girl Curse, and I'm not holding my breath on this one, either.

And what about all of those rumors and media hype? Where was the highly talked about and anticipated lesbian smooch between Halle Berry and Madonna? Hell, Madonna wasn't even on screen for more than 30 seconds. And the Sean Connery cameo that got left on the cutting room floor? (which is probably a good thing, considering the rest of the humor in the film) And how about the claims that Rosamund Pike's love scene is "the hottest sex scene ever in a Bond film." Based on what criteria? Did they even make love at all? Certainly not on camera, so how could anyone even make this statement? It just boggles the mind. All things considered, this Bond outing is just another mindless, over-the-top action film - mildly enjoyable, but instantly forgettable.