Memo to Bond, James Bond: You have a license to kill. You do not have a license to bore, you idiot.
"Goldeneye," the newest addition to the Bond oeuvre, introduces Pierce Brosnan to the role of the British agent who made the '60s swing, the '70s snore, the '80s irritate and the '90s nauseate. He certainly is a handsome devil, looks great in a tux, carries a gun with believable authority, has a much lower mousse budget than Roger Moore and is quite an enjoyable presence. One problem: He seems to think he's in a real movie.
Thus, foolishly, Brosnan, his blasted talent getting in the way, actually attempts to give the secret agent man an inner life, a hint of regret, a wisp of melancholy. This naturalism feels somewhat out of place amid the 351 explosions, 56,789 gunshots, the 14 vehicular catastrophes and the final shuddering collapse of some kind of structure that looks most like the WBAL antenna.
They blow up things real good in this movie and that's about the only thing they do real good. The plot is a mess. It seems to have to do with some kind of conspiracy by some rump Russian group (never made clear) to rob electronically the Bank of England before hitting the city with a blast of electromagnetic energy (from a commandeered killer satellite), which will erase every computer memory in the British Isles, as well as making all the stoplights go bananas. But the British don't obey their traffic laws anyway, and Nick Leeson has already wrecked the banking system.
So what we're left with is a kind of monotonous ordeal by muzzle blast that eventually numbs us. You need earplugs, not a movie critic. It doesn't help that the movie lacks a vivid villain, with poor Sean Bean (who did similar duty in "Patriot Games") trying
gamely to appear interesting. He has the same problem as Brosnan: too much damn talent. (Sometimes really great actors are completely sandbagged by the Bond thing; both Christopher Walken and Klaus Maria Brandauer registered only dimly in their Bond spins.)
And even in the Bond universe, admittedly not the most rigorous of invented worlds, there are some rules that should not be broken. One involves promiscuous death. It's OK to kill bad guys, kill them in the dozens, the hundreds, even the thousands. But this movie blurs a moral line to its own disadvantage: Much of it takes place in the post-breakdown USSR, but it goes ahead and kills Russians by the bushel basket load -- particularly in a long sequence when Bond steals a tank and chases a car through the streets of St. Petersburg, gunning and crushing people endlessly.
Excuse me, folks, the Russians are no longer our enemies, remember? You can't kill them any more than you can kill Swedes or Moluccans or Taiwanese or Clevelanders.
On the other hand, all that death does set up a scene in which a stunt driver does a wheelie in a T-74 Sov Main Battle Tank. You don't see that every day.
The director, Martin Campbell, stages the action well, which appears to be his main talent. He's not good with actors, or at least he doesn't recognize the occasional magic that he bumbles into. One such sequence involves Bond's meeting with his new boss, Ms. M, played in no-nonsense style by the distinguished Dame Judi Dench. Boy, is she good, and boy, does the electricity crackle between her and Brosnan, lighting the film up like a meteor shower. Yet she's only around briefly; how much better it would be if these two congenital antagonists, representing not merely their genders but their world views, stomped and pawed at each other all the way through.
There are two bits of good news in the film: Izabella Scorupco and Famke Janssen. Cast as the good and bad femme fatales, the two former models (Polish-Swedish and Dutch, respectively) are far more comfortable in their cartoony roles than is Brosnan in his. They seem to get it in a way he doesn't, and both performances are based around the sort of extraordinary physical confidence that beauty seems to endow without complication upon those blessed enough to receive it. Scorupco is, how do you say, ooh-la-la, is that the phrase? Anyhow, her radiance is so compelling that she pretty much outshines even most of the destruction.
But on the whole, the thing could be dismissed as: Shaky, not stirring.
Starring Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean
Directed by Martin Campbell
Released by United Artists