Lucky 007

Pierce Brosnan is golden in the best Bond since Connery

What can you say about James Bond that hasn't already been said about Ted Bundy? He's charming and reckless, well-traveled and intelligent, but half the women he sleeps with end up dead.

Sure, Bundy doesn't have the same beach-boy good looks, but a fast car and $3,000 tux tend to make a statement of their own. And that accent! It is inevitable that we love him.

Although GoldenEye, the 17th installment in the "legitimate" Bond series, starts afresh with a new 007 (Pierce Brosnan) and a new attitude about the politics of warfare, it still has the good sense to revisit the Bond myth. In the great tradition of the serialized mayhem that two generations of testosterone-swarming male adolescents have grown cozy calling Bond, James Bond, everything old is new again: the characters and plot are updated enough (but not too much) to meet the needs of the post-Cold War, sensitive-male climate; Secret Service head "M" is no longer played by the drunken sod Bernard Lee, but by acclaimed British stage actress Dame Judi Dench. Moneypenny isn't quite so long in the tooth as she had grown in recent outings, and the screenplay even answers that eternal question about her and Bond: Did they, or didn't they? (In keeping with the film's weak nod to the '90s, Moneypenny even suggests accusing James of sexual harassment.) The Aston-Martin has been ditched for a sleek new Bimmer.

Even the obligatory femme fatale with the double entendre name of Xenia Onatop (Famke Janssen) proves herself to be a modern woman for a health-conscious age--her ability to crush men to death between her legs could only be the result of months of training on a ThighMaster. (Suzanne Somers must have had prior commitments.)

So what if this latest film still gives in to the gentle sexism that just assumes all women can be seduced by the impossibly disease-free agent with a license to kill? It's a movie, for crying out loud! Pure escapism, a fantasy for those pea-brained men without the will or attention span to muddle through a Harlequin romance.

The fact is, I enjoy kicking back for two hours of mind-numbing sex, banter, and special effects as much as the next moviegoer. I'm not ashamed to admit that by any measure of craftsmanship, GoldenEye delivers the goods.

The screenplay manages an admirable feat of legerdemain by incorporating Russian into the film without resorting to labeling all Russians as villains. Instead, James finds himself on the trail of his old MI6 colleague 006 (Sean Bean), a traitor to his country who intends to avenge a decades-old wrong by aiming a nuclear-powered Star Wars laser satellite (code-named GoldenEye) on his enemies. Since the Russian government is the only one with the necessary technology, it becomes his ignorant accomplice in world domination.

There's rarely more to the plot of a Bond film than ultimately unambiguous moral issues--the villain must not be allowed to blow up the world/destroy the world economy/conquer the world just because he is a madman/an evil genius/fundamentally egocentric--but the ability to identify the black hats and white hats accounts for why these films work on so visceral a level. Logic and reason be damned; we're looking for missiles and misogyny. You aren't meant to wonder why all the writing on Soviet computers is in English or why they accept English voice commands, even though all the signs are in Russian. You've missed the point if you over-think these movies. Instead, try to enjoy GoldenEye by evaluating how well it complies with the rules of the genre. Credits and song: excellent. Outrageousness of opening stunt: masterfully authentic. Comeliness of the Bond Babes: mouth-watering. Despicability factor of villain: disappointing.

When all is said and done, the real question is the appeal of James himself, and Brosnan proves to be up to the challenge. Brosnan's loss of the part 10 years ago to Timothy Dalton because the producers of the TV show "Remington Steele" wouldn't let him out of his contract was even more notorious than when Tom Selleck was passed over as Indiana Jones because of "Magnum P.I." But whereas everyone is thankful about that little casting glitch, Brosnan's omission was a real shame, a saddening "what might have been." Brosnan doesn't seem the worse for the wait. He's mastered the cool reserve and witty repartee of James, and brings to bear a physicality and sex appeal Roger Moore couldn't conjure up convincingly as he got older.

The only thing missing from the movie is a sense of completeness. The ending is a bit of a let-down--pay attention or you might miss it--and some of the performances are distracting. Sean Bean does little more than grimace throughout, and I could have lived my whole life without seeing Joe Don Baker's lily-white fat ass. Nevertheless, after a career distinguished by misfires, director Martin Campbell seems to have found the ideal medium for expressing himself: explosives.

James Bond is a sexually irresponsible, politically incorrect anachronism. I guess that makes him a relic, a quaint Cold War dinosaur of boyhood mentality without a chance of surviving in the '90s.

Like hell.

GoldenEye. United Artists. Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco. Written by Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein. Directed by Martin Campbell. Now showing.

 
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