Licence To Kill
November 5, 2011 Leave a comment
Title: Licence To Kill
Year: 1989. The pop culture landscape in the last year of the 80’s was rather bleak. After getting the keys back from the autours at the end of the 70’s, the suits dumbed down the 80’s with a mix of overly commercial crap and vanilla politically correct dreck. By 89 films like Ghostbusters II, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Looks Who’s Talking were hits. The Oscar winner for Best Picture was Driving Miss Daisy, a film that was somehow meant to make baby-boomers feel warm and fuzzy about the Jim Crow south by having the late great Jessica Tandy stop yelling and learn to love the always great Morgan Freeman. Sigh. Number one albums from that year included Electric Youth by then Debby Gibson, Hangin’ Tough by a pre TNKOTB The New Kids On the Block, and Girl You Know It’s True by a duo who maybe one of the biggest F-you’s to fans ever, Milli Vanilli. In place of the true talent, fans were presented two pastel wearing dreadlock dudes who danced like drunken marinates. The record company was telling costumers who brought the Milli Vanilli record that while they may love the beautiful voices they heard, they couldn’t handle the less then beautiful people who produced those voices. Hell, even the Grammys were fooled by these lip-syncing phonies. (Not the first or last time the RIAA would be dubbed; this is after all the origination that gave awards to Don Henley and Creed.) OK, I’m cherry picking a bit on the whole 1989 sucked thing; the still incredibly sharp and darkly hysterical War of the Roses was a hit and somehow, someway, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction spent one week at #1, all be it bookended by three weeks of Bobby Browns’ Don’t be Cruel on either side. The point is in 1989 mainstream pop-culture wasn’t really about pushing boundaries. It was about playing it safe and dummying product down for the “mass audiences.” But the good thing about hitting rock bottom is there is no place to go but up. At the dawn of the 90’s the sign wave that is pop culture was about to take an upswing, and a radical one at that. I was lucky enough to know some college kids in 1989 who turned me on a records like Jane’s Additions Nothing Shocking (which was f***king shocking!) and Doolittle by the Pixies. (Thank you again Mike.) Something was happing here, and what it was wasn’t exactly clear, but it rocked in a way I never knew possible. Within three years, even the jocks would be wearing flannel. Something was happening in the world of film too. A young man named Steven Soderbergh wrote a screenplay in eight days. He then decided to direct it. After it was done, he screened it at little film festival in the far-flung cultural vacuum known as Salt Lake City. Two brothers from New York with no Hollywood cred what-so-ever liked Soberbergh’s little movie and decided to distribute the film thorough their upstart company. Made for one million dollars, sex, lies, and videotape went on to make $24 million on just over 500 screens, Miramax became the hottest production company for young talent, Sundance became THE place to be every January and the 1990’s indie film movement was born. The appeal of grunge, independent film, early gangsta rap, etc. was that audiences felt smart for listening to/watching/discovering this stuff. It felt like the artist were other fans making the art/product for us. It felt like we were being treated like intelligent humans and not being spoon-fed whatever the studios told us we should like. It actually felt like these movies and records meant something. In 1989, all of this was bubbling just below the surface, ready to explode. At first glance, Licence to Kill looks to be on the frontend of this wave. The poster, featuring the new no nonsense Bond promised “James Bond is out on his own and out for revenge.” EON took great pride in telling anyone who would listen that this was an adult Bond like none we had seen before. They took delight in pointing to the PG-13 rating, the first ever for a Bond film, as proof. One paper, there is much to be excited about here but understand this, Licence to Kill thinks you, loyal Bond fan, are an idiot. As faithful readers no doubt know, spelling is not my strong suit. When I picked up the DVD for Licence to Kill, I looked at the cover and knew something didn’t look right. I figured “licence” was a British thing; like “colour” or calling “Z” “zed.” So I did a quick flip through the Ultimate Edition’s handy-dandy booklet just to confirm. Yep, EON used the British spelling of “licence” which was kept even after producers changed the title. Cool.
What was the title before I wondered as I read on… Licence to Kill was the first Bond flick to not be based on a Fleming story hence it’s the first to have a title not supplied by the creator. The original title was Licence Revoked which given the story, makes much more sense. In the film Jimmy B get his 007 yanked and can no longer kill with immunity hence the whole “out on his own” thing on the poster. Awesome, so why did they change it to the confusing Licence to Kill, an item Bond doesn’t have for 85% of the film? I read on. The title was “changed to Licence to Kill when concern was raised that a small percentage of American audiences might not know what ‘revoked’ meant. The British spelling of ‘licence’, however, was retained.” I’m not sure I know where to begin. I guess MGM, 20th Century Fox, and EON should get some credit for having the balls to print that fact in their promotional material for the movie. But then again, no. What “small percentage of American audience” are we talking about here? Those under the age of six? Since this is the first PG-13 Bond, I somehow don’t think the kids were a concern. The thinking was such that American’s would be thrown off by the word “revoked” but license spelled with “c” was OK? I can’t come up with one good reason why “revoked” would somehow challenge Americans anymore than the words “diamonds” or “forever.” These are the people who released films titled A View to a Kill and Octopussy but having the word “revoked” in the title gave them pause? Are you God Damn kidding me? The same year this film came out a Christmas special aired on FOX featuring the cartoon family from the “Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” went on to become the longest running show in television history and has seen countless brilliant writers walk in and out the front door. When Matt Groening is asked about the success of the show he often points to the fact that the writers never though they were smarter then the audience. They made the basic assumption that if they found something funny, their audience would as well. EON on the hand, thinks we American’s are too stupid to know what “revoked” means. Girl, you know it’s true, uh uh uh, the 16th Bond film hates you.
Film Length: 2 hours 13 minutes.
Bond Actor: Timothy Dalton. The Welsh born Dalton trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts where he made his bones performing a ton of Shakespeare. As a young man he received raves for his King Philip in The Lion in Winter (1968) and his turn in Wuthering Heights (1970). Impressed, Cubby Broccoli asked the 25-year-old actor to replace Sean Connery as Bond. Thinking he was to young and feeling he still had important work to do, Dalton promptly turned down the plum gig. He then went onto leave his mark by dating Vanessa Redgrave on and off and playing Prince Barin in the best film ever made about a New York Jets quarterback, Flash Gordon (1980). As the 80’s progressed he donned period costumes in several roles but failed to realize his early promise. Thought it all he took his craft very, very seriously; almost to a fault. It’s just acting old boy, your not saving lives. No matter, when he did sign on to play Bond in 1987, his second or third contemporary role, he bent over backwards to treat Bond more like Hamlet and less like Superman. In press interviews for both of his 007 films, Dalton seems embarrassed to be part of a movie that is merely pop entertainment. He comes off as being above the material and all but apologies for having to hang off airplanes. Listening to him, you feel like Dalton’s a man who signed the EON contract and then immediately had buyer’s remorse. He never got past this feeling. In a 2002 interview with the LA Times, Dalton said “Everybody has their own take on how to play Bond. For me, there’s only one man who’s played it and is Bond to this day, and that’s Connery. He must’ve been blindsided. You have to be prepared to go through many doors because you’re not just an actor; you become the front man for this franchise.” All of this angst and frustration and self-loathing and contempt for the material shows in his performance as Bond. There were moments in Licence to KillI half expected Dalton to turn to the camera and scream “I will not be your action figure. I’m AN ACTOR GOD DAMN IT!” The Dalton era could have worked. He is the most physical Bond yet and it shows in the action sequence. During the open of this movie, while Dalton pulls of one stunt after the next, the wife said “Moore could never have done that” and she’s right. You believe this man could ride a cello case down a mountain or drive a truck though fire but here is the deal, when you’re doing stuff like that, you have to bring some joy to the action. Or at the very least acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation. Both Connery and Moore understood this and dealt with it in their own way. Dalton never figured this side of Bond out. There is a ton of talk on the DVD extras about “returning to the spirit of the early films” and how they were “damn good mysteries and romantic thrillers” and how they wanted a “darker, meatier Bond” with a “harder edge.” Break this down and what they are really saying is they wanted the films to be more like Connery’s swinging 60’s movies and less like Moore’s lounge lizard 70’s films. I get it, the last few Moore film went too silly, but you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Connery had his silly moments too. “My name is Pussy Galore” “I must be dreaming” is comedy gold…finger. The first shot of that film shows Connery wearing a fake seagull on his head for crying out loud. In this film, Bond is flying solo on a personal vendetta. The idea is to re-imagine Bond as dangerous rouge set loose on the world; a seething man pushed to the edge who’s always a hairs breath away from going absolutely ballistic. OK, maybe not as much room for funny in that but as Mr. Craig would prove in his stroll in 007’s shoes, dark doesn’t need to be a drag either.
Dalton’s take is DOA. Again, he thinks he is above this martial so he never, ever commits to the idea. Instead, Dalton attempts to get power from the character by underplaying him like Eastwood as the Man with No Name. He fails for several reasons. First off, I know Mr. Eastwood and you sir, are no Mr. Eastwood. Clint can melt concert by simply starring out from under the brim of his hat. Dalton has nowhere near enough gravitas to pull that off so when he underplays it comes off a passionless and flat. Secondly, it’s the wrong approach for this material. This Bond is meant to be on the edge but it never feels like there is any danger of him going off the rails. Another Timothy has perfected the art of showing outward restraint while volcanically erupting internally. To watch Mr. Olyphant’s Sheriff Bullock simply walk down the main street of Deadwood is to witness a man seething with anger who is a hairs breath away from going absolutely ballistic. It’s written all over his face as he gives iconic looks from under his hat. And here is the kicker; it’s a blast to watch. Because Olyphant believes it, he sells it, and most importantly, he makes it look effortless. Dalton can do none that, even if he did have the chops, because he never fully commits. When he dose commit, Dalton can be a blast; think “I’m a slasher, I must be stopped” from Hot Fuzz (2007). But as Bond, Dalton is a total drag. Perhaps his worse sin is never realizing that playing Bond might be one of the most fun gigs in the world.
Director: John Glen is problem #2. Working from an original story Broccoli, Wilson and Glen decided to get on the same page as their leading man and go “dark” thus answering my major issue with the previous film. As the cliché goes, be carefully what you wish for. There is a misperception when it comes to pop art that “darker” automatically equals better. It’s like when a 17-year-old female singer thinks the way to become an adult is to take her clothes off. Becoming a slut doesn’t make you adult. Likewise darker or edger or grittier doesn’t mean better or more serious or more mature.
Glen also makes the fatal mistake of equating “darker” with “humorless.” Again, I think this is part of the overall knee jerk to Moore’s “funny” Bond. Back to Olyphant for a moment, his Bullock proved it’s possible to pull of the trick of being dark and in moments funny at the same time. And let’s not even bring up McShane’s Al Swearengen, the darkest and most hysterical villain of all time. In the name of going “dark,” Glen sucks all the funny out of the film but strangely, not the camp. Lets start at the top, Felix and Bond as the groom and best man respectively, are on their way to Felix’s wedding when they get sidetracked. After a good amount of action the two end up parachuting onto the chapels steps. Already donning their tuxes, the two agents proceed to enter the church with their deployed chutes dragging behind like the train on the brides ground. This could be funny. This could be used as a device to show an agent’s work will always take priority, even on his wedding day. It should be both but in Glen’s hands it ends up being neither and the audience is left wondering what the hell just happened. Glen has progressed not a lick as a director and for his fifth (and mercifully final) Bond film it’s time to call him what he is; an excellent second unit man who should stick to that role. Outside of the big set pieces Glen has no sense of framing, irony, pacing, or storytelling. Sorry, the proof is in the pudding. And frankly, even the action bit is getting stale by this movie. The underwater sequences in Licence to Kill just made me want to rewatch Thunderball(1965) where they were 100 times better. The climatic truck chase while loud and big was all over the map with no scene of space or understanding of who is where doing what. Were their three trucks or four? It took me a second viewing to know for sure. At one point the Bond girl lands a plane in the mountains without the use of a runway. She gets out to see a big rig truck roll down a cliff to come to rest at her feet. Three scenes later, she appears out of nowhere at the exact right time after having somehow driven off the sandy cliff and back up on the road. That’s just one example. This film is full of things just kind of coming from nowhere, moving the plot along, and then disappearing. This is not going “dark,” this is lazy film making that sells fans short. Speaking of not appreciating audiences, I need to point out that on the DVD extras Glen says he felt the whole Americans not understanding revoked was silly. I would love to take the man at his word but I’m not sure I can. He also describes this as his best Bond (that would be For Your Eyes Only (1981)) and he contends that while the film didn’t receive high marks at the time, he is proud to see the new cult of Bond fans rally around it as it has grown in stature over the years. Ummm, I’m calling bullshit. If this segment of Bond fan is truly out there, please feel free to put up your supporting arguments in the comments section. Maybe I’m missing something, but Licence to Kill is mess. While groom Felix and best man Bond are engaged in the pre-wedding action, there are several ill-timed cutaways to the fretting bride and others in the wedding party. It’s strangely treated as more urgent and more important than the death defying action Bond and Felix are performing. Again, that could be funny or make a larger point but there is no irony here, it’s simply bad film making. The entire second half of the film plays like the instructions on your shampoo bottle; wash, rinse, repeat. Bond has gone rouge but a CIA confident and Q have come to help him on the sly. So, Bond instructs them to help with a task, they do, then he says go home, I work better alone. CIA confident and Q huff, then come rushing to Bonds rescue three scenes later. Bond gets bailed out, and then again says that’s it, really, go home. I shit you not, this happens five or six times. The pacing makes the entire thing feel strangely dated, more so then the Connery or Moore films. Making things feel all the more awkward, monumental events are treated as throwaways while a lot of time is spent on stuff that doesn’t really matter. Part of this has to do with Dalton having only one gear for the character but when ohhhhh, say Felix gets his leg bitten off and his bride is murdered, there should be a feeling of weight and consequence, not a tossed-off hospital bedside scene. Glen may want to go “dark” but he has no idea how to handle material with any weight. All of this adds up to destroying the Bond world. Seriously, if you take a step back form this picture, it plays like an episode of “Miami Vice.” However, it must be said Glen did get his pigeons in every film as he promised to do way back in 1981, so congrats John. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Reported Budget: $32,000,000 estimated. This too is an issue. To keep the budget about where it’s been for the last five or so films, producers were forced to abandon their beloved Pinewood Studios. New tax codes in England would have pushed the cost of filming up by an estimated 10%. So, the entire cast and crew relocated to Mexico where a majority of the surrounding country was used for location shoots and Churubusco Studios in Mexico City served as the sound stage and home base. While the last few films weren’t the run away spending spree that the earlier Bond films where, they never felt like they were cutting corners to make the film on the cheep. In the Licence to Kill, the lack of funds can be seen on the screen. This hurts the film in countless ways and further degrades what we have learned to be Bond’s world.
Reported Box-office: $34,667,015 USA and $156,200,000 Worldwide. These numbers are kind of astounding. American audiences abandon Bond like he was Mel Gibson circa 2010. EON more then made their money on the film thanks to overseas ticket sales but this had to be a major source of concern.
Theme Song: “Licence To Kill” performed by a Pipless Gladys Knight. Minus her back-ups, her vocals remain intact but the soul is absent. The lyric are also not up to Motown standards. When I heard Miss Knight belting out “Got a license to kill anyone who tries to tear us apart” all I could think was “really? That seems as if it could be used rather irresponsibly. I mean, having a license to murder anyone who might court you or your lover should be … rescind or voided or annulled or lifted or negated or nullified or recanted or expunged or retracted or invalidated or abrogated or abolished or … there has got to be another word for it…” In the meantime, because Gladys Knight is a pro and kicks-ass, the video here has 100% more balls then the studio version used in the film. Enjoy.
Opening Titles: I’m running out of stuff to say about the titles at this point so I’ll quote the wife. “It’s always naked chicks and guns. Who puts these credits together, Phil Spector?”
Opening Action Sequence: The first shots of Bond in the last film featured him all in black. His feet having barley touched the ground he went sprinting into action. The first shot in this film features Bond and two other tuxedo clad men sitting three abreast in the back seat of a car. The tuxes are a tip that a wedding is in the future. The fact they are driving on the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys is a tip that cars will flying off the bridge and sinking in the wet in the future. Indeed, its Felix’s wedding day and the three men are trying to get to the chapel on time when they are interrupted by Felix’s “partners at the DEA.” The feds have the notorious drug dealer Franz Sanchez in their grasp and they need Felix’s help to nab him before he makes it into Cuban air space. Felix jumps on their helicopter and brings James along “strictly as an observer.” However, he does give James a gun “just in case.” We then cut Sanchez, who has risked stepping foot on U.S. soil for a woman; a woman he finds in bed with another man. “What did he promise you, his heart?” Sanchez asks while his men hold the guy at knifepoint. “Give her his heart” Sanchez says as they drag the man out. He then proceeds to whip the woman with a stingray tail. This would be the most badass intro of a villain ever, except the scoring is so ridiculous as nearly ruin the scene. Nearly, but it still manages to work and in a bigger sense sets a precedent that will play out for the entire film. Mainly, the bad guys are the only thing in this movie that’s any fun or works well. Bond villains are always a blast but this is the first film where I found myself enjoying the villain stuff so much that when the film goes to the Bond stuff, I couldn’t wait to get back to the villains. Case in point, when we rejoin Felix and Bond they are screaming at each other in the copper to be heard over the motor. It is jarring and simply bad sound editing. Then, when the chopper lands we are presented with a shot that would be embarrassing in the Bad Boys 2 (2003) trailer. Felix, in his tux, carrying a machine gun, runs straight at the camera, flanked by DEA agents on either side doing the same … in slow motion. I literally couldn’t believe it but I swear it happened (I watched the film twice, I didn’t dream it.) I could be wrong, but I think this is the first slow motion shot in all of the Bond films, and yes, it further destroys the world of Bond. Speaking of, I love when Bond does outrageous shit that works within the rules we have so firmly established. Hell, it’s why we watch Bond in the first place. But nothing, nothing has set up a universe where a helicopter can catch up to a crop-duster plane, have Bond repel out of said helicopter and land on the tail of said plane, hook a cable to the tail, and the helicopter then takes off with the plane dangling under it like a cowboy that has just lassoed a bull. Well, that’s how they get Sanchez as he’s trying to escape and “oh look, it’s the wedding down there. And it’s yours Felix! What say we … drop in?!?!” I wish, but that would be too Moore. Now I want to pause at this point and make this about me, if you will indulge such a detour. I enjoy the hell out of this blog. It’s also a lot of work. It’s work I enjoy or I wouldn’t do it but it consumes a ton of time to come up with different angles and a bunch of tweaking of ideas to make them fit into the context of the big picture. Anyway, some stuff I think works OK and other stuff I’m really proud of. One of the things I thought was quite good and fairly witty was my parachute principal for Bond openings that I came up with for The Living Daylights. Well, Licence kills that idea. Bond and Felix parachute into the wedding and the band strikes up and oh man, it’s just too depressing. Thanks for destroying my theory one movie after I came up with it. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.
Bond’s Mission: The tagline “James Bond is out on his own and out for revenge” is about right. Sanchez bribes sniveling CIA man Ed Killifer, “Sorry, ol’ buddy, but two mil’s a helluva chunk o’ dough,” who helps the drug lord escape in a sequence involving the Seven Mile Bridge and, as promised, cars going into the water. Now free from prison Sanchez goes after Felix, killing his bride and feeding Felix to a shark. When Bond finds Felix half alive with the note “he disagreed with something that ate him” pinned to his chest, Bond is not laughing. Bond takes it upon himself to go out and hunt Sanchez down, tracing him to a Key West warehouse owned by Milton Krest. Best I can tell, Krest is a highly paid mule who uses his fishing/hunting/electric ell business as a cover to smuggle cocaine into the US for Sanchez. Bond destroys the warehouse, which pisses off the DEA who’s been building a case that is now screwed up by Bonds cowboy act. Marched before M, Bond shows not a bit of concern for screwing up and has his licence to kill revoked. (Ed Note: Revoke <verb> – to annul by recalling or taking back.) Bond all but pulls a gun on M and takes off. Like Sara Palin, Bond is now a loose canon unleashed into the world, gone rogue. “I work better alone” Bond says to drive this whole lone wolf thing home but that’s a bigger lie then “I did not have sex with that woman.” Bond not only screws up the DEA’s case during his little Rambo without a jockstrap routine, he derails a CIA plot to nab Sanchez in a weapons deal and he blows the cover of a Hong Kong Narcotics operation that’s been working on Sanchez for three years. Worse, the three Chinese agents end up getting killed as a result of Bond’s actions. So does Sharky, the Bubba Smith looking dude from Felix’s wedding. So James Bond, one of the best agents in the world, single handedly manages to undermine the British, Chinese, and United States government all in the name of being pissed off. By working alone perhaps Bond meant don’t come near me, I’m King Midis in reverse and everything I touch turns to shit. Bond has always, no mater who’s played him, been kick-ass. He’s always been the smartest guy in the room. He’s always been at the very top of his game. Here, Bond is fumbling around in the dark until by dumb luck he achieves his objective.
Villain’s Name: Franz Sanchez. If you haven’t gathered yet, Bond sucks in this film. Thank EON for Sanchez. It’s only while sharing the screen with slippery snake that the Bond character is elevated to the Jimmy B we know and love. Our baddie is all you want in a Bond villain; he’s sinister, scary, shrewd and charming as hell. Whether he’s feeding CIA men to sharks, beating his girlfriend with a dead animal part, or schmoozing investors to get them to come in on his cocaine empire, he always has the same calm exterior that almost succeeds in obscuring his steal-eye intensity. While Bond spends the film flailing about and getting his friends killed, Sanchez is always in control, until he’s not. While the press material says Sanchez was based on Manuel Noriega but he’s more of a Pablo Escobar like figure, a man who is simply more powerful then the government of his nation. His coke operation basically makes up the bulk Isthmus’ GNP and he therefore has every pol, policeman, and peasant in his hip pocket. He ruthlessly rules through fear, intimidation, and insistence upon loyalty. The first two serve him well but it’s his high ideal of honor among thugs that proves to be his downfall and not coincidentally, the only hook in the film on which we can hang our hat. Take Ed Killifer, the CIA man who sells his buddy Felix out for $2 million. Sanchez uses such a man while finding him despicable exactly because he does sell his friend out. Then, he pays him anyway. Sanchez did after all give his word. The reason Sanchez whips his woman while his flunkies get all Mola Ram on her lover’s chest? Not because of the physical act of sleeping with another man, but because she was unloyal. This character trait is the only thing in the movie that allows Bond to shine and be Bond. In an expertly executed bluff, Bond, Jiu Jitsu like, turns Sanchez’s code of loyalty against him. By sowing seeds of doubt about his trusted henchmen, Bond twists Sanchez in to such a state of distrust that while Sanchez never gets high on his own supply, he still ends up just as paranoid as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). And like Pacino’s South Florida coke baron, Sanchez ends up imploding and killing everyone he once trusted. (Side note: In another reference to Brian De Palma’s llello opera, one of the CIA guys figures Felix’s missing leg was thanks to a chain saw “They sell more then they do in Oregon down here.” Good stuff)
Villain Actor: Robert Davi. The scenes where Bond talks Sanchez into doubting his own men are some of the best in the film. It’s fun to watch Bond turn the screws but these scenes don’t exist in a vacuum and therefore ultimately don’t work. I think it’s because Davi is the better actor. Or maybe more actually, he is on much surer footing when it comes to understanding who Sanchez is then Dalton is with Bond. As a result, it’s a bit of a stretch to think Sanchez would be outfoxed by Bond Lite. (One can’t help thinking what Connery could have done with the scenes.) Davi, a tough guy character actor from Broccoli’s old stomping ground of Astoria, Queens, originally trained as an opera-singer and was headed in that direction until he damaged his voice. You can catch him belting out a few bars in Goonies (1985) where he and Joey Pants play the bumbling Fratelli brothers. He also made news later in his career for being one of the few in Tinsel Town to outwardly support the second Iraqi war. “There is a conservative movement in Hollywood, and we kind of stay amongst ourselves.” Conspiracy theorist can point to statements like that as the reason we haven’t heard much form dear Mr. Davi as of late.
It’s a shame too, in a Hollywood were Ryan Reynolds lands tough-guy roles, we could use a little more Robert Davi. (Honestly, you buy Reynolds for a second in the Safe House trailer? Hey speaking of the Safe House trailer, check out Denzel’s CIA agent run amuck. Now that’s how you go rouge babe!) )
Villain’s Plot: I like seeing Felix front and center and I like that the villain is more loyal then CIA guys, but the baddie in this film doesn’t really have much of plot. It’s not even like he commits the common sin of wanting too much and biting off more then he can chew (See “The World is Mine!” in Scarface). In fact, he’s just kind of doing what he’s always done. He just happened to feed the wrong guy to a shark and that gets Bond’s panties in a bunch. Meanwhile Sanchez hangs out in his casino while running business as usual until it’s to late. This consists of strong arming the president of Isthmus, setting the market price for coke via a television evangelist (a bit of geniuses we will get to in a bit) and smuggling that coke in vats of bait through the Florida Keys via Milton Krest. All in a days work. Sure, he’s trying to buy some weapons but what multi-national drug cartel isn’t? And yah, he almost gets nailed by the men from Hong Kong when he tries to expand into Asia but thanks to Bond, those pesky ninjas are exposed and dealt with. Top marks 007! While the lack of ambition is a nice change of pace in a Bond villain, the film also suffers from a lack of urgency and stakes because of it. Now, if Bond was really a loose cannon hell bent on bring this guy down despite the US and UK telling him to lay off, then the villain not wanting the world to be his would be fine. We could see Bond reeking havoc to the increasing frustration of the villain until the final mono-a-mono faceoff. But as it stands, we get none of the above and as a result, the final confrontation between Bond and the villain, while explosive (ha-ha) is rather ho-hum.
Villain’s Lair: Did we mention Sanchez is rich? Well he is. He owns the national bank of Isthmus as well at the casino next door; eat your heart out Steve Win. And then there is his seaside villa, a pad that would make the talent of South Beach, Mr. LeBron James, weep with envy. We are introduced to his palatial home via Bond’s eyes. After Sanchez’s men save Bond from the ninjas (I know you think that’s a joke, it’s not) Bond wakes up in an all white room with a bug eyed statue staring at him. He then walks though a dream like lair of waterfalls and wall-less rooms that wrap around an infinity pool that over looks the Isthmus harbor or as it’s known on Google Earth, Acapulco. There is something simply elegant about a baron of blow building a home where everything from floor to ceiling in bone white. Also, let’s take a moment and silently bow our head’s for the poor cinematographer who had to figure out how the hell to shoot this place. Cameras and white don’t get along at all and add the sun reflection off all that water…well lets just say I hope our DP has recovered from the stress nightmares that most certainly plagued him during production. Well done good man, and know it was worth it; the place is simply breathtaking. The same cannot be said for deep forest hideout. After all the talk of a new, dark, Bond that audience will barely recognize, Glen and Co. rely on the most tired and boring of all Bond clichés for the films third act. Everything comes to a head at the villain’s ultra modern over-sized lab (in this case, a coke possessing plant) that is hidden in an agent over-sized wonder of the world (in this case, a faux Aztec temple that is also the home to a Jonestown like cult) that inevitably catches fire and explodes moments after Bond, with girl in tow, escapes. At least in the past with the volcano lair de Blofeld, or Drax’s temple come lunching pad or Scaramanga’s sea side cliff/solar power plant or Stromberg’s octopus garden or even Dr. No’s shanty nuclear powered fishing wharf rocket jamming digs, we had a sense of the place. (Not so with Mr. Big’s voodoo shark aquarium but hey, the graveyard was cool!) Sanchez’s joint just seems to have random rooms that kind of pop up just to serve out whatever purpose the film demands. It has a TV studio with a lion head waterfall, an underground helicopter parking garage, a cocaine-refining assembly line, a huge trucking doc, and a soundproof rape room cheekily referred to as a “meditation chamber.” None of these locations has any relation to the other and the rooms aren’t even visually consistent enough to be close to existing in the same space. But it all blowed up real good, which I guess, is the point.
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: “Ummm, I like the way you do business” The Dude famously told Jackie Treehorn over a Caucasian and I like the way Sanchez dose his. There are countless examples I could pick from to demonstrate how this smooth operator errr operates but I will pick one. After trying to sell a bunch of Asian investors on his importing/exporting business, “drug dealers of the world unite!” Sanchez opens a set of double doors to reveal a room full of women, each with a drink in hand. As soon as they come into to view they are pairing off with the investors who forget the previous hardboiled negations in exactly 1.3 seconds. Well-played sir. Additionally, Sanchez has his skate tail whip and he gets a pet; Blofeld had his lap cat, and Sanchez has his shoulder lizard. The iguana, who I named Iggy, even gets to sport the Diamonds Are Forever (1971) collar.
Badassness of Villain: Pablo Escobar, possibly the closet thing to a real life Bond villain other than Rupert Murdoch, toyed with running for the President of Columbia (the country, not the university.) He most likely would have won but he reconsidered throwing his hat in the ring once he realized he was more powerful then the President of Columbia while not having to deal with all the bullshit that come with being a politician. I’m not sure when Pablo realized this but perhaps it was around the time the President of Columbia threw the drug lord into prison. A prison, and this is 100% true, that Escobar was permitted to build himself, on his own land, and have guarded by his own hired goons. You suspect Sanchez is the kind of guy who could build his own prison. When he tells the president of Isthmus “Remember, you’re only president for life” you know he is. Between the Felix shark feeding, the heart ripping out, the stingray tail whipping of a woman, and the calm and cool manner in which he does it all while cynically selling drug with a “700 Club” like television show, well, he may just be the most badass villain we’ve seen yet.
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: As if Sanchez didn’t have enough points already, his trio of henchmen are the most fun asides I can think of. No, they are not quite as memorable as Jaws or Oddjob but these three and Sanchez literally save an otherwise atrocious movie. Exhibit A: Dario AKA Benicio Del Toro. Save his part as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-wee (1988) (not to be confused with the Tim Burton Pee-we film) this was his first time on the big screen. And while he’s not quite Fred “flip you for real” Fenster or Dr. “did you see what GOOOOOODDDDD just did to us man?” Gonzo, every single line he delivers rolls off his tongue like dew dripping off morning grass. “Don’t worry” he purrs to Felix when the agent, suspended over a shark tank, asks about his new bride, “we gave her a nice Honey mooooon” with his voice rising to emphasize “oooon.” Even his wardrobe, which looks like something one of the dancers from Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video would wear, he somehow makes cool. He’s the perfect man behind the man, always present and ready, but also fading into the background when not needed. Next we get Milton Krest who is the only non-reoccurring character in the film to come from Fleming’s pen (the short story “The Hildebrand Rarity.”) Krest is a rich American though how he made his money is unclear. Now, Krest earns a living using his fleet of boats and submarines as well as his Florida Key warehouse to smuggle Sanchez’s blow to a beeper carrying street level pusher near you. One more note about his warehouse, it holds every variety of aquatic life imaginable (sharks, electric ells) for no real reason and has a variety of containers that say ACME on the side. Perhaps Krest makes his money selling gadgets to Wile E Coyote? Anywho, as played by Anthony Zerbe, a character actor who has earned “Oh, that guy!” status, Krest is one smarmy guy. He gets one scene that is absolutely riveting and more frightening then the Sanchez woman whipping incident. In both scenes, Sanchez’s lady, Lupe Lamora, is in bed, this time on board Krest’s boat. Sanchez is not on board and Krest has been drinking. Because Zerbe plays the scene like he is truly inebriated and not like a cartoon stumbling drunk, he gives off the unsettling feeling that he is capable of anything, at any moment. So when his mood starts to sour Lupe is justifiably terrified. She attempts to defuse the situation by playing her ace and threatens to tell Sanchez if Krest touches her. This backfires horribly as Krest moves in for the kill. “I’ve known Sanchez a long time…. And I’ve seen girls like you come, and I’ve seen girls like you go.” Mercifully, he is interrupted by the ships captain before things truly take a turn for the worse. I wanted to know everything about Milton Krest. Who is he? How did he get involved in this business? How did he and Sanchez meet? What’s his drink of choice? Who is his favorite baseball player? Before we can learn such things he ends up loosing both the shipment of coke AND the money and scratching his head looking for excuses when Sanchez comes calling. I have a feeling this will end badly for old Milton… Between Dario and Krest, we would have had two classic henchmen. But then we get, and I must admit, I somehow forgot he was in this film, Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton!!!!!!! Forget everything you know about this movie. Now, picture yourself sitting in a bar, waiting to meet a friend. That friend enters and says, “I just heard the craziest thing.” “What?” you ask. “OK, Wayne Newton just came out with a movie where he plays a character named Professor Joe Butcher. Professor Joe is a preacher who has a Pat Robertson’s like TV show but it’s really the front for a cult in Mexico somewhere. Everyone in this cult walks around in white robes. As initiation, all the women are taken to a sound proof room when Newton has sex with them. Oh, and Newton drives around this place in a golf cart. OK, to get money, he sells a book he wrote which has a photo of a half naked woman in a yoga posses on the cover and is titled “The Secretes of the Cone Power Reviled.” The other way he makes money is by selling cocaine over the air but only a few distributors in the states know this.” “Wait, what?” you ask. “Shut-up, I’m telling you” your friend answers. “Newton goes on his TV show and sets a goal for pledges. Like he will say on the air he needs to raise $18,000, and then that’s the price for the shipment of coke. So say you’re the Chicago supplier, you call in, pledge, send the check, and then that’s the payment for the coke. He then ships it out of his temple where he also processes the stuff. And here is the best part about all of this, it’s a Bond movie!” Wouldn’t you spit your Anchor Steam on the floor, throw a $20 on the table, and run out to the nearest theater to buy a ticket that second? Hell yes you would and I would be right behind you. And that’s not to all; Newton totally nails the part! I’m not kidding. At one point, the Bond girl shows up at the compound, dons the white robe and pretends to be a fawning follower. Prof. Joe takes her to the pyramid like bedroom, which is decorated with copies of his book, to make the moves. When she pulls a gun on him, is he upset? No. He loves it! As she is locking him in this room, a sound proof room (all the better for raping), he smiles at her and says “Bless your heart!” the same way he says it to the dups on his TV show. Even later, when his temple is blowing up and his entire lives work is literally going up in flames, he is fleeing with a bag of money, the last thing he has in the world. The Bond girl comes up behind him, riding in HIS golf cart, and swipes the money. He stops running and looks at her with a smile of deep admiration. “Bless your heart!” It is a part and performance for the ages and you know what, it still gets buried by this shit pile of film. Honestly, it takes a special kind of suck to blow Wayne Newton’s Professor Joe Butcher.
Bond Girl Actress: Carey Lowell. Most Bond girls are former models and so is Ms. Lowell but I must admit, this Huntington New York native just did it for me more then most. I understand this is purely subjective so many might not agree but I found her to be the hottest Bond babe since Barbara Bach and just a notch below my #1, Diana Rigg. She is simply stunning in the evening gowns she wears to the casino and she gets points for almost pulling off some of the terrible dialogue she’s forced to deliver. (almost…) Post Bond she went on to have a regular role on “Law & Order” Dunnn-dunnn as A.D.A. Jamie Ross and in 2002 she married Richard Gere. Good for her and great for him.
Bond Girl’s Name: Pam Bouvier. Despite how stunning Ms. Bouvier is, Bond doesn’t recall the first time he met her at Felix’s wedding. At least when they meet up again at the ZZ Top redneck bar he doesn’t let on that he remembers. Strange. Bouvier is some kind of mercenary, its never really clear, who partnered with the CIA on the Sanchez missile sting. She can suck down a martini, handle herself in a barroom brawl and bails Bond out of trouble more times then I can count, including one hell of shot to take out Benicio who literally had Bond dangling over a barrel. Her thanks? Bond screams at her. At another point she somehow resists the temptation to smack Bond when three seconds after lecturing her about her professionalism, his getaway boat runs out of gas. “They must have shot the fuel line.” Uhhuhh, that’s what they all say. Yet, despite the fact that Bond treats her like yesterday’s papers through the entire film, like say when he takes too much pleasure putting her down in front of people while she is playing his assistant, she still falls for him. This isn’t the usually babe in the woods Bond girl who would be wowed by the spy. Nor does he give her the respect of treating her like an equal. So why would she fall for him? And this just adds to the Dalton problem, his Bond is a jerk, and not a fun one. And to a larger extent, the film as a whole is kind of mean to the women, perhaps thinking “dark” means “cynical.” How else can you explain Glen’s choice to make Bouvier weep when she learns Bond is messing around only to be won back after he throws her in a pool? Cynical.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: I’m not really sure. When a man in a tux jumping off a balcony at a formal party and throwing you into a pool makes you all weak in the knees, well, that some kind of kink I don’t understand. None the less, she and Sanchez’s woman don’t just sleep with Bond, they both fall in love. Kara Milovy fell in love with Bond in the last picture and it didn’t quite work, so for some reason Glen decides to double-down here. As a result, when Bond sleeps Lupe as a “field agent using every means at his disposable to achieve his objective” (Thanks Q) Bouvier’s heart is broken. Not that we spend anytime at all exploring this, they are after all just the women. Again, it’s cynical and no fun and sends the film down yet another road that’s abandon when no longer needed.
Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “Why don’t you wait until you’re asked?”
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Well why don’t you ask?” Don’t worry, it makes no sense in the film either.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2. Lupe and Bouvier. But for some reason, Lupe gets more respect. At least Bond has the stones to tell her it ain’t going to work out. Bouvier just kind of gets strung along. I also think it must be pointed out that before Felix’s bride got crooked she and Bond seemed a little too familiar. They are all kiss, kiss and touchy feely and she cuts in to dance with him and then more kissing in front of Felix and I don’t know… this is your wedding lady. For a few minutes there I thought the first PG-13 Bond film was going to go in a very different direction.
Number of People 007 Kills: 11. Krest’s warehouse is like something out of the Final Destinations films; let’s see how many strange ways we can come up with to kill people. Well there is (1) the calamari to the cranium, (2) the electric ell tank, (3) the harpoon to the dude who killed Sharky and (4) Ed Killifer and his $2 million sleep with the fishes in the shark tank bit. (Cue the Pixies – ED …IS….DEAD! Huuuaaa huaa ED IS DEEEEEEEAD! Sorry, back to our regularly scheduled program.) Here again, the killing of Killifer is supposed to mean something in the context of the Bond on a vendetta thing. This is the guy that sold out Felix and Bond is burying not only him but also his blood money so to speak. But it carries no weight. Worse, for the umpteenth time in the film, I found myself thinking back to a previous Bond’s that pulled off the idea better. Roger Moore, of all people, the guy who Dalton treats like the red headed stepchild of the Bond films, did this so much more effectively when he kicked Emile Leopold Locque over the cliff in For Your Eyes Only (1981). Moving on, in a neat trick Bond (5) pulls an emergency door in a plane that a goon rides earthward and he then (6) tosses the pilot out for good measure. He runs a pick-up up truck off a cliff killing (7,8) two dudes and to complete the by air, by land and by sea trilogy, Bond (9) shoots a dude while getting away in his Cigarette boat. Although Banicio (sorry, I have to call him Banicio. It’s just cooler then Dario) was all ready shot and in bad shape thanks to Bouvier, I guess Bond gets credit for the kill by dropping Banicio and his oh so sexy clothes into (10) a circular chopper. It’s not quite Steve Buscemi in Fargo (1996) but it’s a decent “Ehhhuuuuuuu” moment. Finally, Bond and Sanchez, both beat to hell, are lying at the bottom of a cliff and covered in gasoline thanks to the leaking fuel trucks. Let me say I always enjoy seeing a beat up Bond and here he truly looks terrible, so that is something. Sanchez, gun in hand, looks down on the broken agent wonders why he betrayed him. “You could have had it all.” Bond breaks out the lighter Felix gave him and asks “don’t you what to know why?” before (11) torching the bastard. Speaking of “Ehhhuuuuuuu” moments…
Most Outrageous Death/s: OK, there isn’t much to like about this movie so when something comes up you’ve got to embrace it. And the outrageous death is pretty outrageous, and something to truly be celebrated. After Milton Krest loose both the payment and the product, Bond convinces Sanchez Krest’s been ripping him off. After Sanchez finds some cash in a deep-water pressurized submarine chamber, his suspicions are confirmed. So, into the chamber with the cash goes Milton. “You want the money? You can have it!” While Sanchez cranks up the dial all poor Milton can do is presses his face up against the porthole. “It’s not my money!” he shouts until a year before Schwarzenegger’s eyes bugged out of his skull in Total Recall (1990), Milton’s melon goes pop in a nice, juicy way. The kicker? Goon “Hey boss, what about the money?” Sanchez “Have it laundered.”
Miss. Moneypenny: Caroline Bliss, for all she accomplished in the last film, is rewarded with a greatly reduced and mostly thankless role here. Back in the alcove of M’s office she find herself worried about James; a concern that earns her a tongue lashing from M. Moneypenny then serves her purpose in the plot by informing Q where Bond is and then the film is done with her. Much is made about the misogyny of the Bond films, particularly the Connery era ones, but Licence To Kill treats women perhaps worse then any previous entry.
M: Robert Brown. I always felt Brown was a dick as M and he absolutely confirms it here. In the past, M would “officially” dismiss Bond when the political heat was coming down and then support him on the sly. Not here. Universal Exports commandeers the Hemingway House, a fact I enjoyed immensely. While several six towed cats and armed men watched, M dresses Bond down for undermining the CIA’s case on Sanchez by going on his “personal vendetta.” The thing is, M is kind of right here. But now, see if you can follow this. Bond says he will resign if not permitted to stay on the case. “This is not a country club” M hisses at his best agent. I guess what he means by that is one can’t just walk away from being an agent, you know kind of like “No one leaves the KGB!” (I miss General Gogol) Fine, but then in the next breath M tells Bond to hand over his gun and 00 licence to kill. Is this some kind of “Oh you can’t quit because your fired” argument? I don’t get it. Then, Bond takes a swing at another agent, steals his gun, and jumps off the balcony. There are several MI6 dudes who have a clear shoot at this man who just committed treason against the crown. But then M tells his people “Don’t shoot.” If he said so because he trusted Bond or didn’t want his best agent to get killed or anything other then “there are too many people around” it might have worked. But here’s the thing, they are at the Hemingway House which is walled and cut off from the public. They could shoot all they want in the courtyard and the only causality other then Bond would be a few six toed felines. It’s 100% M’s fault Bond got away so what does he do? He takes it out on poor dear Moneypenny. “There are five typing eras on the first page alone” he barks before literally throwing the paper at Moneypenny. What a dick.
Q: Oh dear, dear Q. Other then Sanchez and his motley crew of henchmen, Q is the only bright spot in this slog of a movie. As loyal to Bond as Moneypenny, Q takes it upon himself at great risk to both his life and career to travel to Isthmus to assist Bond. God knows the ex-007 needs it and anytime Q is out of the lab and into the field it’s a good thing. Posing as Bond’s uncle, Q shows up in Jimmy-B’s hotel room with “everything a man would need on holiday.”
List of Gadgets: In his unassuming suitcase Q has an alarm clock bomb “guarantied to never wake up anyone who uses it,” plastic explosive in a toothpaste tube, a camera that “shoots” .220 high velocity “film” and a Polaroid camera that has x-ray vision and a laser beam flash. There were however, no bottles over 5oz. containing liquids so he had no problems with Heathrow Airport security on the way over. The .220 camera, by the by, has a neat trick in that it encodes itself to one hand, in this cases Bonds, so that no one else can use it. Bond also has a cummerbund that hides a rope (good if you need to say, attended the wedding of a CIA man) and one of the simpler but cooler gadgets to date, a wetsuit with wings that allows one to swim under the radar as one looks like a manta ray. Q himself even gets a gadget, a broom that doubles as a walkie-talkie. After Q uses this devise, he tosses it aside with a casual shrug. Perhaps now he will understand how hard it is to maintain equipment in the field.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: His career, future pension and possibly the James Bond franchise.
Other Property Destroyed: For a guy who is cut off from the British taxpayer and the endless budget they provide Bond is rather caviler with funds. He tosses Killifer’s $2 million in the drink with Killifer, he loads Krest’s pressure/ torture chamber up with cash and he giggles like a school girl as he throws countless Benjamin’s out of a broken airplane door. While doing so he does not, much to my disappointment, announce he’s making it rain. Bond also shows little regard for the street value of cocaine when he drowns kilo after kilo in the ocean, blows up the entire coke processing plant and then on his way out blows up four, count em, four tanker trucks full of gasoline and Bolivian marching powder. While destroying these trucks, he also takes out a number of jeeps and other vehicles including a car he crushes after pulling a Diamonds Are Forever side wheelie and coming down hard on the auto. In other news, demand for narcotics soared in Los Angles and New York after a sudden shortage sending the price of an 8-ball to an all time high.
Felix Leiter: Have you noticed how I’ve just kind of nonchalantly been bringing up the fact that Felix got his leg bitten off? This is not by mistake. When we first see Felix suspended over the tank still in his wedding day finest, it’s a rather jarring image, one that I somehow had forgotten about. So when they lowered the long time Bond confidante into the water and he screamed as a shark dined on his lower half, I was kind of taken aback. “Holy shit, are they going to kill Felix?” It was truly shocking and the film could have gotten some mileage out of it. It is, after all, why Bond goes supposedly bonkers and becomes a fugitive. But no, nothing. Glen truly drops the ball a few scenes later when we see Bond standing next to a hospital bed and a nurse comes in and says “He’s legs gone, we see about the arm, by the by did you catch ‘Glee’ last night?” OK not quite but it’s a huge plot development that’s just kind of dropped. Even worse, at the end of the film we see Felix sitting up in his hospital bed like a kid who just got his tonsils removed. He’s got a huge smile on his face as he talks to Bond on the phone. “Hey buddy, yah, thanks so much for killing that guy who took my leg. Solid. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, M’s trying to get a hold of you to give you you’re old job back so everything is as it once was, how swell is that? What? Oh my wife, yah I kind of forgot about her. Oh well, other fish in the sea and all that, see you back at the office and thanks again James.” And that’s it. All is forgiven and James is back in the MI6 fold and roll credits. Look, these two men now have both been widowed on their wedding day thanks to the violence that comes part and parcel with their chosen professions. Is that dark enough for yah? Think there are some larger ideas that can grow out of this? Do James and Felix form a bond over this incredibly traumatic event in both of their lives? Nahhh, they don’t even discuss it. Felix’s bride is given just enough screen time to smooch Bond and then get killed off so the plot can get rolling and then she’s forgotten. Again, I can’t decide if this film is just super lazy or so cynical as to not even care about her or Felix or the audience. I suspect all of the above. Felix by the way was played by David Hedison who becomes the first and to this point only actor to reprise the Felix role. For those keeping score, he was Moore’s NYC docent in Live and Let Die (1973).
Best One Liners/Quips: “Don’t be an idiot, 007. I know exactly what you’re up to, and quite frankly, you’re going to need my help.” Q puts it all in perspective and saves the day.
Bond Cars: No car but Bond does get a Cigarette boat, the cocaine cowboy’s transport of choice in the 1980’s. Q gets the wheels in the form of a grey Rolls.
Bond Timepiece: I saw a flash of a watch on Bond wrist, which was nice since he didn’t have one in the last film. However, it went by so quickly I couldn’t see what it was.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: One of the few good things that can be said about Dalton’s Bond is he smokes, as he, in my opinion, should. It’s one of the few things we can point to that gives this Bond something approaching a personality.
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: One of the other things is Bond’s drinking. I tipped my hat in admiration when Bond checked into his hotel and ordered a case of Bollinger for his room. While depositing millions into Sanchez’s bank, Bond enjoys a glass of bubbly. He has another when touring the coke bottling plant with the Asian inverters. Bond orders his signature drink, a medium dry martini shaken not stirred, but he must leave before he gets to enjoy. No worries, Bouvier downs it in one slug. I also loved that while in the ZZ Top bar, Bond is served a Bud with a lime and he doesn’t even consider soiling his pallet with such swill. Flashes of the Bond we know and love.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Card players are a superstitious lot in general, but blackjack players take the idea of “mojo” to whole new level. I think the reason for this is blackjack, when played properly, is the gambling equivalent of knowing the times tables cold. Memorize the answers and that’s that, no thought required. So as sure as 6 X 8=48, you hit when you have 16 and the dealer is showing 7 but stay when you have 16 and they are showing 6. To play blackjack correctly takes zero skill if you just remember the answer for every card combination and since you are only playing the dealer and not the other players at the table, it’s not all that difficult to memorize all possible card combinations. (Ed. Note: This is assuming you’re playing with a multi-deck shoe, which all casinos do and that you’re not attempting to count cards, which all casinos consider a black bookable offence.) So, with no variables to affect play, gamblers start looking to other factors like “runs,” “streaks” and “luck” to explain why they are up or down at any given point in the game. I know guys who will only sit at certain tables and wait if that table is full and the next table over has an open seat. Other guys have “rules” for when they not only must leave the table, but the casino as well, only to walk to the card room next door and sit back down. While all blackjack players have their own individual quarks, almost all universally subscribe to the concept of a hot/cold dealer. One dealer could be at your table and everything’s coming up roses. The minute this dealer is replaced potential doom is right around the corner. So, the “luck” factor is what keeps blackjack interesting; that and the stakes, the higher the bet the bigger the thrill. Bond sits down at a private table, which means (a) he gets to play six hands at once and (b) he gets to set the limit as high as the house will allow. Playing the sucker, Bond puts his $2 million line of credit from the bank on the table and promptly goes about losing $5000 a hand until he is ¼ million down. He asks for higher limits and based on the fact he’s playing “like a real jerkoff” he is granted his request. In short order he is ¼ million ahead when the new dealer is sent in; the kiss of death. Bond looks up to see Sanchez’s girl Lupe and he knows his winning has come to an end. He did however achieve his goal, as not five minutes later he’s standing in Sanchez’s office baiting the hook. While playing for $10,000 a hand should be exciting, here it is not, because we never see it happen. Most Bond gambling scenes are exhilarating because we get to see Bond play and have a precise understanding of how he out plays his opponent. Perhaps because blackjack is so straightforward they don’t bother showing any of the action here. It’s a shame because hustling at blackjack is a rather novel idea. While tanking on purpose is rather straight forward, going on a $500,000 plus run is not easily engineered. I’m not sure how you can do it without cheating so I would have liked to have seen how Bond pulled it off. However, the only way we learn about what Bond is doing at the table is from other characters dialog breaking one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking; don’t tell it, show it. We have no idea of how Bond switched gears to go on a ½ million dollar positive swing simply because the film finds it unimportant. The blackjack game is an excuses to get Bond in a tux, two ladies in evening gowns and then it’s simply a bridge to get Bond though Sanchez’s door. As a result, this is the most disappointing 007 gambling scene to date.
List of Locations: The fictional country of Isthmus was played by Mexico. Both the interiors and exteriors of the Isthmus Bank, and impressive bit of architecture, were shoot at the Mexico City Post Office which stands as a monument to just how far the once might institution of “snail mail” has fallen. La Casa de Sanchez was owned by Cubby Broccolis “colourful and close friend” Baron Ricky Di Portanova. His sea side villa in Acapulco is not only stunning, but after Tangiers in the last film, wee now have two locations in a row that serve as Dylan song cues. Hemingway House, six toed cats and the Seven Mile Bridge were all shoot in the Florida Keys and the red neck bar fight was filmed in the very same Double Duce in Missouri where Dalton famously declared that “pain don’t hurt.” (Ed. Note: Part of the last sentence is a big lie, and not the part about the six-toed cats.) The final tanker truck chase was shot on a stretch of Mexican road that was closed after being deemed too dangerous. The crew spends entirely too much time on the DVD extras talking about how the sprits of motorist who died over the years on this road haunted their production.
It’s strange and kind of uncomfortable watching professional men wax nostalgic about being spooked by things they “just can’t explain.” It’s also the classic case of a crew having such a blast on location that they just assume the audience will enjoy it just as much. But we were not there and we don’t. Now if they had caught some of those ghost riders on film, that would have been something. Finally, this was the first Bond that I’m aware of that was not shot at Pinewood Studios in England. The sound stages of Churubusco Studios in Mexico were brought up to date for the production. I don’t know if this decision contributed to the cheep feeling of this film, but it does feel cheep.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Barefoot waterskiing ain’t all that easy but doing it while being towed by a plane and while being shoot at and then jumping into the plane and taking out the gun man and the pilot and then flying off into the sunset … now that’s Bond, James Bond. Remember the scene in the first Indian Jones film where Harrison Ford works his way around the undercarriage of a truck while it’s speeding along a dirt road? And then he pops up, opens the passenger side door, gets into the cab and takes out the driver? Glen rips that off almost shot for shot for Bond to do, only not as well. But once Bond gets into the trucks drivers seat, he handles a road so deadly and dangerous it was shut down by the Mexican government like he’s Tom Kristensen at 24 Hours of Le Mans so take that Indy.
Final Thoughts: I found this film rather frustrating. So many things pile up to ultimately make the entire thing a chore just to watch. Bond needs to be effortless, and all you can see in Licence to Kill is how hard the movie is working. It’s working hard to be dark and different. Dalton is working hard to not be Roger Moore. Producers are working hard to get by on less money. The script is working hard in both direction; push Bond out on his own but dragging him back into Bond conventions. The movie is running in place so fast it digs itself in to hole and never gets out. As a result, Glen is left totally exposed as the hack he is. He somehow managed to get worse with each film he directed, like a Benjamin Button filmmaker he learned his craft in reverse. The first hour of the Licence To Killdefies the laws of space and time by both dragging and being chaotically all over the place at the same time. The film has no look what so ever and comes off like a third rate cop show on cable TV. Nothing is ever visually established or resolved. Maybe, maybe the lack of budget played a part but gone is the craftsmanship of the classic Bond films. Truth is, the care in the area of craft has been on the wane through out the 80’s but other parts of the pictures made up for it. Here it all finally comes to head. Even the good stuff, like Sanchez’s house, seemed to get short shifted. As great as the home is, it’s never fully explored. It’s like Baron Portanova said to Broccoli “yah you can shoot here but you only get the place for the weekend. The wife wants to throw a party on Tuesday. Oh, and stay out of the front two thirds of the house OK? I just had new white carpet put down.” And then there is the script, a failure on all levels. If Bond is going to go rouge he needs to go rouge. He needs to be pissed. If he’s cut off, make him The Dark Knight, a loan loose cannon out there reeking havoc. He comes off as a guy punching the clock whose only half good as his job. And that takes us to Timothy Dalton. Look, I’m not going to continue kicking him, I did enough already, but it’s clear that he either doesn’t get, or refuses to get, what makes Bond Bond. Granted, a better director and script would have done wonders but sorry to all you Dalton apologist out there, he is also a big part of the problem. Play this game, change Bond to Bob, drop the iconic score and remove all those laser projected 007’s from the opening credits. Is this Dalton any good? Or try this, keep Bond out of it, replace Dalton with a Jean Claude Van Damn or a Steven Segal or a Chuck Norris or any other B-level action star from the late 80’s, and keep everything else in the movie the same.
Is this movie better with one of these guys playing Bob then Dalton playing Bob? They only reason we give Licence To Kill any attention 20 plus years later is because it’s a Bond film. If it were Timothy Dalton in the same movie called Out For Vengeance or something we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We would see it pop up on USA at 4PM on a Saturday, giggle because they just threw ninjas into the plot for no reason what-so-ever except to have ninjas, and we would then move onto to pull up “Breaking Bad” season 3 on our instant Netflix queue. Before I started this blog I kind of felt like ever generation got the Bond they deserved. Well, Licence To Kill is the Bond that late 80’s Hollywood sold us, but to our credit we rejected him. I return to the idea of cynical. EON goes to pains on this and The Living Daylights DVD extras to provide a revisionist history that boils down to “We were trying to go dark and do something different and you fools didn’t get it. But now, 20 years later, people understand what we were doing and we think these movies hold up rather well.” Nonsense. This is a terrible film, Dalton is a terrible Bond, and that is why Bond fans stayed away in droves. (By the by, pat yourselves on the back for that one Bond fans.) Remember, these guys blaming us are the same filmmakers that didn’t trust us enough to know what revoked means. This is a film that has a final scene where Bond jumps off a balcony while attending a cocktail party, lands in a pool, drags a woman in with him, and starts to make out with her while, and I’m not making this up, a 12 foot long concrete fish statue winks at them. This is too dark for audiences? This is what we didn’t understand in ‘89 but can wrap our heads around now? Just because you put 007 in the opening credits doesn’t mean we will just swallow what you’re feeding us. Like the NFL tries to make each Sunday an “event,” every Bond film is promoted and hyped to the stars. When you make those promises you must live up to the hype. Licence To Kill is the NFL equivalent of two 1-6 teams going at it in front of a half empty stadium. Think Bills vs. Lions before the 2011 season. But oh look at em now, these two teams could be facing each other in the Superbowl come February. (OK, probably not but they both should make the play-offs.) All it took was some new running the ship to bring new ideas and get the right personnel in place and suddenly, these two teams have returned to respectably. Well, we’ve got a long six years between this movie and the next Bond. And if memory serves, Bond 17 has one or two new names on the poster. I can’t wait. I was going to give Licence to Kill the sad distinction of being the second movie to receive the dreaded single martini glass rating. But upon second viewing (and I never want to see this film again) I really got a kick out of Sanchez, Krest, Benicio, and Prof Joe Butcher. I wish they had a better film around them because they are some of the more interesting villains to come into Bond’s universe. They were the only things that keep me going on this 2 plus hour ride and for that, thank you gentlemen, and bless your hearts.