Never Say Never Again
directed by Irvin Kershner
(Warner Brothers, 1983)

It's easy to focus on what it lacks. For instance, there's no opening gunshot, no pre-title mini-adventure, no oh-so-cool title sequence. The title song, warbled by Lani Hall, is lousy when compared to hits of the past. Not only that, but the overall film score by Michael Legrand is horrible; I didn't realize how much I'd miss the famous Bond theme until it was gone.

But that's all trivial when compared to the big picture: Sean Connery is back as James Bond.

That first sight of Connery back in the role which made him famous is a rush for any true Bond enthusiast. Seeing him infiltrate a jungle fortress and single-handedly kick enemy butt is an undeniable thrill -- even if it is an exercise which Bond, ultimately, fails. Kudos to Wendy Leech, whose hostage role in the movie is minor and brief, but she has the honor of being one of the few characters ever to slip past Bond's guard sufficiently to land what could have been a killing blow.

But all's not well in the hallowed halls of British Intelligence. The new M (Edward Fox) is a blowhard bureaucrat who makes little use of his 00 agents. Miss Moneypenny (Pamela Salem) is largely forgettable, and Q (a.k.a. Algernon, played by Alec McCowen) has plummeted from the refinement of Desmond Llewelyn into a Cockney caricature. Initially, he doesn't even provide Bond with anything more imaginative than a laser watch and an exploding pen, although he does come through later with a nifty, if short-lived, motorbike. He also has one of the film's best lines, after Bond is brought back into active service: "Now you're on this, I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence." Well, of course. This is James Bond.

After Bond's failure in the training exercise, M sends him to a "health farm" for reconditioning, where he proves he still has his old flair by first circumventing his strict dietary regimen and then seducing his stern nurse (Lucy Hornack). There he runs afoul of SPECTRE's agent No. 12, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), and her corrupted U.S. military charge, Capt. Jack Petachi (Gavan O'Herlihy). Once Bond has been spotted and identified, SPECTRE of course tries to orchestrate his hasty demise, and the fight scene with a SPECTRE thug, ranging from the exercise room, through the hall, kitchen and a pretty lady's bedroom before climaxing in the specimen room, is classic Bond material.

Death and devastation at the spa aside, Bond is recalled to service when a crisis arises.

Klaus Maria Brandauer is suitably urbane and insane as Maximilian Largo, the fabulously wealthy businessman and SPECTRE agent No. 1 who tries to hold the world hostage after hijacking two nuclear warheads from the U.S. military. Max von Sydow makes for an oily Ernst Blofeld, but he bears little resemblance to Blofelds of the past beyond his ubiquitous white cat. He also has little direct bearing on the plot; he's content to chew the scenery occasionally while monitoring events from behind the scenes.

Still, it's nice to see Blofeld and SPECTRE back in action; neither has been used in a Bond film since Diamonds Are Forever, after Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory waged a successful lawsuit to win rights to those characters from the Bond franchise. (That lawsuit was extended to give McClory the right to produce a new Bond film, but only if it was a remake of 1965's Thunderball. Ironically, Thunderball is the only Bond film I've never seen, but why it needed to be remade still remains unclear to me.)

Bond's investigation takes him to the Bahamas, where he is "assisted" by field operative Nigel Small-Fawcett (a hilariously inept Rowan Atkinson) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey). He crosses paths again with Fatima Blush, which leads to a good bit with a shark, to say nothing of the fisherwoman (Valerie Leon). He also meets Domino Petachi (Kim Basinger), Capt. Jack's sister and Largo's naive girlfriend.

As Bond girls go, Basinger and Carrera are fairly standard, neither standing out or disappointing as the film's siren and schemer, respectively. There's also little to say about Nicole (Saskia Cohen Tanugi), the customarily expendable field agent.

The film carries on in southern France and northern Africa, steamrolling through a titillating massage, a charity ball, a high-stakes video game and a slave auction. The means of Fatima's defeat is particularly absurd and the climax isn't very climactic, but otherwise, Never Say Never Again is a fair to middling Bond flick.

But this "renegade" Bond production never achieves the slick, polished look and feel of the "official" series from United Artists. Too many vital pieces of the Bond mythos were lost along the way, leaving us with a half-hearted effort which disappoints in many ways.

OK, so it doesn't stand tall among the finest of Connery's too-brief Bond career, but Never Say Never Again wasn't made for Bond fans so much as it was made for Connery-as-Bond fans. For them, it's a treat just to see him back in the role. (Connery even goes out of his way to prove himself more physically fit than his successor, Roger Moore, who in 1983 was close to ending his tenure in the role as well.)

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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