Spy Vs. Spy

Good guys, bad guys, hot chicks, dumb story--yet another entry in the Bond franchise.

How many Bonds must a film series have before it wallows in self-reference? The answer, my friends, is in Die Another Day, in which some element from every other 007 film (except Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale) is shoe-horned into the script.

Pierce Brosnan, the fifth official Bond, seems to have finally grown into the role, becoming a bit more burly and rugged. Sadly, his many chest hairs don't save him from the horrors of spouting trite Bondian dialogue.

Nonetheless, he grins and bears it, wading through a series of fights, explosions, and polite English-style lovemaking sessions with Halle Berry and the delightfully wooden Rosamund Pike.

There is some sort of a story here, something about Bond being mad at a bad guy named Zao, and then trying to beat this bad guy up. Meanwhile, the bad guy is friends with another bad guy named Gustav Graves, and together they try to do bad things. When Bond isn't blindly bagging whatever babes bounce through his bedroom, he's finding out that Graves and Zao are working to make the world more evil, Asian and communist.

In order to stop this, Bond must team up with NSA agent Jinx, who is played by Halle Berry. Berry has rarely given a good performance, but this one may be a new low. Imagine someone with no knowledge of English who's been asked to phonetically sound out a script without having any idea of what the words mean, what the story is, or what her character is supposed to be doing. Such a person would give a far more convincing performance than Berry, who just spends her two hours on celluloid looking confused, and maybe a little excited by all the gadgets.

In order to distract the audience from the black hole that is Berry's performance, director Lee Tamahori throws in a lot of chases and fights. One particularly pointless but very well choreographed sword-fighting sequence actually goes on for about 10 minutes, which is the kind of time waster that helps make Die Another Day bearable. At least while Bond and his arch-nemesis Graves are thrusting their shafts at each other they can't toss off too many stupid puns.

There are also two high-speed surfing sequences, a hovercraft chase, and a scene featuring Madonna wearing clothes. Wild stuff! Madonna, by the way, is only in the movie for a few minutes, so she doesn't really have the opportunity to do her favorite thing in a film, which is to ruin it completely with her almost surreal impersonation of an actress.

I thought that this would be a particularly fun film for the true Bond geek, because of all the scenes and dialogue borrowed from other Bond films. The script even manages to make punning mention of the titles of the other movies ("Diamonds are for everyone, Mr. Bond!") With this in mind, I called my dear friend Herr Doktor Professor Samuel Slote, America's leading James Joyce critic and author of The Silence in Progress of Dante, Mallarme, and Joyce. Like most literary scholars, Dr. Slote has a complete collection of Star Wars figurines and has memorized every detail of every James Bond film.

After we watched Bond save the world (Oops! Gave away the ending!) I asked Dr. Slote what he thought. "All the references to the earlier Bond films seemed less like homage and more like they had just run out of new ideas," he said, before begging me not to print his comments and ruin his standing in the academic circles wherein simple-minded worship of franchise films is considered de rigueur.

Sorry, Dr. Slote, but as a reporter, I feel the truth must out. Indeed, this was not the best Bond film, but in may have been the best Bond film in the last 15 or 20 years. Its insipid dialogue and Halle Berry's supernaturally bad performance don't completely get in the way, the special effects are reasonably special, and even the story is sort of engaging.

I wouldn't recommend it to the pretentious twits who think that only movies about mentally handicapped farmworkers in revolutionary Cuba who find love with able-bodied priests and fight for a greater tomorrow count as "art," but I would recommend it to drunken sailors on leave who have not managed to pick up a floozy before the 7 p.m. screening starts. It's just that good!