Licence to Kill

September 27, 2011

The James Bond movie series, which has been going strong since 1962, got an infusion of fresh blood last time around with the introduction of a new actor to play the famous member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Timothy Dalton, in The Living Daylights, brought a good mean edge to the role, thus wiping away marshmallow memories of lightweight Roger Moore.

Dalton is a welcome addition, but what the series needs now is some new talent behind the camera. Under the stewardship of producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the same team has been churning out these things for years; writer Richard Maibaum and director John Glen have been associated with Bond, in one way or another, virtually since the beginning. Their age is showing. Bond may have been the epitome of turtlenecked, martini-sipping hip in the 1960s, but he’s beginning to look a bit square.

Licence to Kill is Bond’s summer workout, and there’s effort expended to give 007 some bite, by increasing the urgency of his mission and by splashing his female associates with a touch of women’s lib. The film opens in Key West, where Bond and longtime friend Felix Leiter (here played by David Hedison) are celebrating the latter’s wedding when a notorious Latin American drug lord (Robert Davi) escapes from custody, kills the bride, and dangles Leiter into the mouth of a great white shark.

Bond is peeved. When he meddles in the case, after being officially warned off, his license—er, licence—to kill is revoked. But then, our man Bond never really needed a permit, did he?

Then 007 goes to a fictional Latin American country to find and kill Davi. Bond gets the help of Davi’s sultry mistress (model Talisa Soto) and a mysterious but entirely capable American agent (Carey Lowell). Lowell is the most appealing “Bond girl” to come along in quite some time. She has a memorable introduction to the secret agent when the two have to battle their way out of a Bimini bar infested with bad guys.

Other scenes include Bond water-skiing behind a seaplane, throwing a villain into a tank with electric eels, and leading a merry chase down a mountainside in four tanker trucks full of gasoline and drugs. The stunts are up to the customary standard.

In fact, Licence to Kill is, at least on the surface, a solid enough outing. But there’s little life in the proceedings, and not nearly enough fun had with the usual gadgets and lavish locations (no globe-hopping this time, either). It’s time to open up a window on the series, lest Bond wither away.

First published in the Herald, July 13, 1989

And so that was it for Dalton, who gave way for Pierce Brosnan, who might have been Bond a few years earlier were it not for contractual issues. I think the lack of globe-trotting had to do with the attempt to carve a new “serious” Bond, which was going a bit far, but on the other hand this movie also had Wayne Newton and Don Stroud in it, so whatever. (A young Benicio Del Toro, too.) Nice that David Hedison got some work.

Dangerously Close

February 14, 2011

Cannon Films is the upstart low-budget studio that cranks out Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies, as well as the occasional “A” film, such as Fool for Love and Runaway Train. It’s just the kind of company where innovative talent can sometimes rise through the ranks of exploitation filmmaking and attract attention—as with Roger Corman’s company during the 1960s, which gave breaks to Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, et al.

For its opening 20 minutes, Cannon’s Dangerously Close looks as though it’s going to be just such an attention-grabbing film. We’re introduced to a weird high school club called the Sentinels, who take their vigilante function quite seriously—seriously enough to engage in “an intense survival game” called Hunt-Down, in which they terrorize kids who have irked them in some way.

At school, the Sentinels are peace-keepers, and they look and speak like a bunch of buttoned-down, clean-cut creeps. Their leader (John Stockwell, who also had a hand in the script) approaches the editor (J. Eddie Peck) of the school paper, in an attempt to gain some healthy P.R.

He introduces Peck to his parents’ lavish mansion, to his gorgeous girlfriend, and to a local nightclub. Most of these opening scenes are shot in a grabby, non-realistic style, and there are some shots—the girl emerging from a pool at sunset, the camera traveling the length of a dinner table, the nightmarish lighting of the mad club—that’ll make you sit up straight in your seat.

All that jazz is thrown at you by director Albert Pyun, who is a person to watch. This isn’t just grandstanding; it defines the insane world of the Sentinels, and suggests how a kid could get seduced into that world.

Sad to say, the momentum from this impressive opening dribbles away surprisingly quickly. It soon turns conventional, with Peck uncovering evidence to finger the Sentinels in their illegal activities. Aside from a disturbing, Deliverance-like sequence involving the mock hanging of Peck’s punk friend in a forest, there’s little else to make the film distinctive.

It’s still more interesting than the average teen movie, but the power of those early scenes makes the film’s ultimate normality quite frustrating.

First published in the Herald, May 1986

All right, maybe it was grandstanding. I have not followed the career of Albert Pyun through the Z-movie underworld he has inhabited, so I can’t really be definitive on this. I only know that at the time, the first 20 minutes of Dangerously Close looked like something, and one always hopes a new auteur might be just around the corner, and you never know where the next Scorsese might pop up. This was also Carey Lowell’s first movie, for those of you who care about that.