Review: Casino Royale

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(Our tough-to-impress reviewer gives Bond a "good" only rating)

Following a quartet of well-received outings as the dashing 007, Pierce Brosnan has been replaced by Daniel Craig, of the movie Munich, fame, as James Bond, or should I say, James “Blond.�

For, after a score of films featuring the debonair secret agent with dark hair, this installment is the only in the review-proof series to present him as a blonde-haired person. Most might think of Sean Connery as the first in a long line of Brits to portray Bond, though the role actually originated with an American actor, Barry Nelson.

Back in 1954, Nelson introduced the crafty Jimmy Bond in a made-for-TV adaptation of Ian Fleming’s debut novel, Casino Royale. In 1967, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven, a couple of women and a chimp all played 007 in a spoof of the same name.

But in Dr. No, 1962, Connery set the standard against which all subsequent Bonds would be judged, subsequently perfecting the suave persona in From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967) prior to surrendering the mantle of masculinity to George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and the aforementioned Brosnan. So, naturally, the first question to be answered about Daniel Craig is how he compares to the consummate characterization of 007 by Connery.

Suffice to say that while Craig is certainly capable, he won’t be emerging from Sir Sean’s shadow anytime soon. Buff, brutal, but not nearly as charming, this incarnation of the super sleuth is likely to be better remembered for his rough-and-tumble action sequences than for that trademark gadgetry or for generating chemistry as a globetrotting ladies man.

Gone are Bond’s bevy of disposable beauties, as are his off-color double entendres. Equally conspicuous in their absence are such familiar staples as Miss Moneypenny and Q, with just an underutilized M (Judi Dench) returning from among 007’s signature supporting cast. And forget about state-of-the-art special effects, for this picture opts for a gritty realism over spectacular stunt work. In this regard, the movie seems to be taking its cues from District B-13 a low-tech French flick with a similarly acrobatic chase scene.

Essentially, what we have here is a production that all but renders the carefully cultivated James Bond franchise unrecognizable. Obviously, some studio execs decided that that image was stale, and that it was time for an overhaul. Even the storyline is only loosely based on its source material, as Casino Royale has been updated to reflect post-Cold War concerns.

Bond’s assignment is to bring down a nomadic nogoodnik (Mads Mikkelson) who has been bankrolling an international terrorist network. The plan is for 007, accompanied by chaperone-turning-love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), to track down the diabolical villain in a casino in Montenegro. Once there, the idea is to bankrupt the compulsive gambler by besting him in a winner-take-all poker game with a $10,000,000 entrance fee.

Unfortunately, neither cat-and-mouse badinage nor breathtaking locales around Venice, Prague and The Bahamas make up for a two and a half hour disappointment that drags noticeably simply by never delivering the readily recognizable and tired-and-true elements we’ve come to expect of this storied franchise.

An exercise in frustration that awaits any purist expecting a familiar 007 spectacular.

Good (2 stars). Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexuality, torture, and intense violence. Running time: 144 minutes. Studio: Sony Pictures

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