Pierce Brosnan is 007, and "Tomorrow Never Dies" proves it.
Brosnan cements his reputation as the best James Bond since Sean Connery, and sometimes he even gives the master a run for his money. True, he'll never be quite as cool as Connery, but they both manage to make it all look so easy (being Bond always seemed something of a strain for Roger Moore).
Perhaps the key difference is simply that Connery's 007 liked the spy biz because he was so good at it (that, and the girls). But Brosnan's Bond loves being a spy because it's so doggone-much fun.
Eighteen films into the series, there aren't that many twists left in the Bond canon: Basically, the world gets itself stuck in a perilous mess from which only 007 can rescue it. That he does, usually with a beautiful woman at his side to A) be rescued and B) ensure his martini is shaken, not stirred.
But the folks behind "Tomorrow Never Dies" do manage to give the series a new wrinkle, by giving James a partner -- and a female partner at that. Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) is an agent of China's Peoples External Security Force, and without her, this would have been the first Bond film in which the hero perishes halfway through.
The film starts off with 007 forced to rescue the British military from its reckless self. It has called for an air strike on a gathering of international arms merchants, not realizing until it's too late that blowing up the nuclear missiles on display there will leave a big hole where Britannia used to be. Fortunately, you-know-who is there to perform the appropriate derring-do and save the world.
Then the opening credits roll (accompanied by a song from Sheryl Crow, who's done better), and it's on to the real story. Megalomaniacal media magnate Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce, who spends his entire performance staring) has hit upon the best way to sell more papers: Get a war going. So he does his best, shooting down a Chinese plane and sinking a British warship in such a way that both sides are convinced the other's responsible.
But the enigmatic M (Judi Dench) suspects all is not what it seems. So Bond has at it, armed with an assortment of gadgets and a special-model BMW, all provided by the ever-dependable Q (Desmond Llewelyn, making a welcome 16th appearance as the Rube Goldberg of the spy biz). Before long, Bond teams up with Wai Lin.
Yeoh, a Hong Kong actress known as the female equivalent of Jackie Chan, is marvelous; she's one beauty you don't want to mess with. The two agents really get to know each other during a high-speed chase through the streets of Saigon, during which, chained together on a motorcycle, they're pursued by a helicopter. It's a frenetically choreographed piece of mayhem, made even more enjoyable by the easy banter -- even at 60 mph? now that's cool -- between Brosnan and Yeoh.
Bond fans will remember M's admonishment of her star agent during "GoldenEye," in which she told 007 he was a chauvinist relic of an age gone by. Bruce Feirstein's smart script for "Tomorrow Never Dies" suggests that Bond listened.
Of course, this being a Bond film, there has to be a little female window-dressing on display, and the babe du jour this time is Teri Hatcher, who plays Carver's wife and 007's former flame. But she's off the screen before you know it.
"Tomorrow Never Dies" is convincing proof that there's life yet in fiction's most famous cold warrior. In fact, because the film shifts the focus from Evil Empires to crazed terrorists, it's possible to walk away with a double good feeling: Not only does good triumph over evil, but countries of differing ideologies are able to work together. Is the idea of such cooperation any more far-fetched than having James Bond work alongside a woman as jTC unflappable as he is?
'Tomorrow Never Dies'
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Michelle Yeoh and Jonathan Pryce
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Released by United Artists
Rated PG-13 (violence, sensuality and innuendo)
Sun score: ***
Pub Date: 12/19/97