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Monday, April 9, 2012

Film Review | Casino Royale (2006)

Chips and a Dip

by Thomas Delapa

When British actor Daniel Craig was first announced as the new James Bond, hardcore 007 fans went ballistic. "Bland, James Bland," they dubbed him. In his defense, Craig told Entertainment Weekly, "They hate me. They're passionate about it, but I do wish they'd reserve judgment."

Deal or no deal, judgment day has come for Craig and Casino Royale, the 21st Bond movie extravaganza. Get ready for a flush, because this blue-eyed and blond Bond has a license to bore.

In the bygone line of screen Bondage, dating back to the nonpareil Sean Connery and the rudely retired Pierce Brosnan, Craig comes up short (literally) of even George Lazenby, the Aussie actor who had only one assignment, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The spy who gagged me, Craig is to Connery what Mini-Me is to Austin Powers' Dr. Evil.

Gambling on Craig to carry on their billion-dollar franchise, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli chose author Ian Fleming's first entry in the phenomenally resilient Bond series. Fleming's ├╝ber secret agent was a cultural product of the Cold War (and British end-of-empire blues), but the fall of the Berlin Wall has only meant that Bond's "license to kill" was upgraded to include renegade Commies, terrorists, mad media moguls and other high-value targets.

Casino Royale deals out a losing hand, starting with the astounding absence of Monty Norman's killer theme music in the opening credits. The screenwriters (including Oscar-winner Paul Haggis) pay lip service to Fleming's 1954 book, but they've modernized it by playing to U.S. audiences in the age of ESPN, not the USSR. Most of the book involves Bond's cryptic game of high-stakes baccarat. Now 007 must go mano a mano with his foe in a made-for-TV game of Texas hold 'em poker. Yee-haw, pardner.

Yet director Martin Campbell's introduction of Bond is neither as card shark nor suave, karate-chopping spy. In a set-piece befitting Jackie Chan, not Jimmy Bond, Craig acrobatically chases an anonymous bad guy through the Ugandan jungle and up and down a construction crane. Surly and jut-jawed, Craig is not a kinder and gentler Bond. According to his exasperated and expendable boss, M (Judi Dench), he's just a blunt instrument.

It's no coincidence that Bond visits a Miami "Body Worlds" exhibit as a prelude to another no-brain chase. Craig's freakish, barrel-chested physique sculpts the new Bond as a Y2K caveman of few words. Craig doesn't even get to say, "My name is Bond, James Bond." This guy would be more comfortable ordering steroids, shaken not stirred, instead of a martini.

Bond's penultimate showdown takes place at a casino in Eastern Europe, where he faces down Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), a tycoon of terrorism whose evildoing is signified by his bleeding eyeball. Reluctantly bonding with Bond is a dishy British treasury agent (Eva Green) who's supplying the stakes for 007 to play.

Everything is in on the table in Casino Royale's royally dull denouement, from torture and betrayal and death in Venice to Bond's handy pocket defibrillator that could bring him back to life. Campbell and the film's gambling producers shouldn't have bothered. This 007 is DOA, though odds are he'll return to die another day.

First published in Boulder Weekly, 11/22/06

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