U.S. Release Date: November 17, 2006
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Producer: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Composer: David Arnold
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright, Mads Mikkelsen, Caterina Murino
Running Time: 2 hours and 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity)

New Bond Blunted
by Scott Holleran

Wiping the slate clean, the heavily marketed restart of writer Ian Fleming's secret agent James Bond, Casino Royale, retains most of Bond's essence and practically none of his charms.

Plot matters less than character in this wildly successful action franchise, which had been slouching toward schlock for decades in mindlessly vulgar spectacles. Agent 007 needed a refresh and Sony and company deserve credit for trying.

Newly minted superspy Bond (Daniel Craig) is assigned by top agent M (Judi Dench) to thwart terrorist sponsor Le Chiffre's (Mads Mikkelsen) schemes. Along the trail, he falls for a buxom brunette named Vesper (Eva Green). She's there to keep him on budget, no small matter considering he has enlisted in a high stakes card game opposite the villain.

Aces are played following chases, which alternate between romance and card games. After a tangential connection is established between a vague network of terrorists and Le Chiffre, and malevolent forces dominate the action, it's back to the cards and the love affair.

This means there isn't much to gain, since the outcomes are predictable. That leaves Bond and his quest, the success of which depends upon one's predilection for the iconic hero and his values.

As to values, he has none, except Vesper, and it's easy to see what the writers (including Crash's Paul Haggis) have in store for her. Other than Vesper, with whom he generates few sparks, Bond is more muscle than brains. He may be perfectly toned and able to withstand a ballbusting (literally), but he lies to M, breaks into her home, destroys private property for kicks, and, as he smugly says, sneering at his previous persona, doesn't give a damn whether the martini's shaken or stirred.

That's as sharp as he gets and, while he looks fit in a pair of snug swim trunks and decent in a tuxedo, he is not especially bright. In virtually every encounter, from a chase in Uganda to the final push, Bond fails to achieve his goal. Playing poker, sizing up double agents, getting his man—this craggy, pugnacious Bond rarely rakes it in.

When he does earn M's promotion—and Miss Dench does her best to lift the proceedings—it is unclear what if anything has been achieved. It's as if GoldenEye director Martin Campbell went from putting the whole universe at stake in every instant to putting nothing up in its place. Campbell all but cancels the bet, throwing in a curiously flat scene of total destruction in Venice as homage to those classic Doomsday countdowns.

Destroying Venice epitomizes the movie, which aims to be edgy by eviscerating that which is beautiful, reversing the old formula. Through no fault of the actor, who is more stout than civilized in the role, this includes Bond. Even M is reduced to mouthing cliches about the Cold War.

Casino Royale spins and wins a few. Scenic locations—Italy's enchanted Lake Como, the balmy Bahamas, Venice—are gorgeously depicted, recalling the postcard quality of past Bond pictures. Whether inside a rail car or a sports car, details are rich and inviting. An airport showdown is thrilling, though it hasn't much to do with anything.

Neither does this buffed, new James Bond, who bleeds, fails and loses and who convinces the world that he is completely through being cool.

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