Movie review: ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’

I recently reviewed Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 film and wrote that I think “GoldenEye” is much better than what the critics believe. I also wrote or how “GoldenEye” is perceived negatively by the cognoscenti of the James Bond universe and my reasons to know that Brosnan is the third best Bond behind Sean Connery and Roger Moore. So, I’m all for Brosnan but his second effort, “Tomorrow Never Dies,” reveals a bit of weakness and lets some air let out of the 007 franchise. Although Brosnan does a solid job here, “Tomorrow Never Dies” isn’t as consistently paced as other 007 efforts and Terry Hatcher disappoints at all levels. Well, let me get on with it …

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’
(1997; 119 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Roger Spottiswoode and starring Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce and Michelle Yeoh)

AN UNEVEN BOND EFFORT

As I review “Tomorrow Never Dies,” there isn’t any doubt in my mind that Pierce Brosnan is an underrated 007. Although I rank his overall “James Bond” as third after Sean Connery and Roger Moore, I’ll say that I like his athleticism over Moore’s lack of it. So, Brosnan is more true to 007 in the Connery mode but the physical component doesn’t overcome Moore’s affability and likability. In any case, Brosnan’s turn as the superspy isn’t helped by “Tomorrow Never Dies” since it lacks that special “something” a great Bond film needs.

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Brosnan is back for his second turn as 007 in “Tomorrow Never Dies” and he’s nearly as good as he was in “GoldenEye” (click here for my review), but that’s the key – nearly as good. It’s not all his fault. He suffers from the lack of passion in her role by will-become “Desperate Housewife” Teri Hatcher and a depressing lag in excitement in the middle part of the movie. Even Connery would have been hard-pressed to salvage “Tomorrow Never Dies” as a great Bond film by the end.

Also, the bad guy in “Tomorrow Never Dies” is Jonathan Pryce, who plays evil media mogul “Elliot Carver.” The usually elegant and smooth Pryce serves up an uneven performance that is mostly hampered by not being the criminal mastermind that was a trademark of the earlier Bond villains. However, the story is tight and economical – let’s start World War III with a little nastiness created between China and Great Britain – and is played out well through the film.

After Hatcher, who plays former Brosnan lover “Paris Carver,” who is now married to Pryce, the female actors take a big step up with the head of the class being Michelle Yeoh as “Col. Wai Lin,” who is 007’s Chinese security service counterpart and who is very efficient and proficient at kicking serious butt. Despite an alleyway shower scene, Yeoh and Brosnan don’t really develop much chemistry.

Just like most Bond films, “Tomorrow Never Dies” has a simple plot: the bad guy is stirring things up (here trying to create a war which his media empire will cover and he’ll reap the benefits of both money and personal power) and 007 must stop him. With military forces squaring off, Brosnan has 48 hours to find out what happened in the sinking of a British warship – it was sunk by Pryce’s minions in order to steal a nuclear missile they can later fire at the Chinese in what will be perceived as a British attack on China.

Today the focus on tomorrow’s headlines by Pryce in a print edition of a newspaper is antiquated and his dream of a satellite news-driven media has come true (although not for the better) in even more ways than “Carver” could have imagined.

The action speeds across the globe from the opening scene-setter in Russia, back to London and then off to Hamburg in Germany, where Pryce’s media empire has a headquarters (and the lair of his nefarious scheme). It all winds up in Southeast Asia where the British ship went down and a neat chase in Vietnam that includes a motorcycle jumping over a helicopter’s whirling rotors.

The film closes in the typical Bond way – 007 wins both by completing the mission and with the girl.

Here’s a rundown of some of the principal cast:

  • Brosnan does his usual great Brit here (although he is Irish) and does an excellent job being urbane, smart, fearless and especially good at the one-liner. Brosnan never overplays a role and 007 would be an easy fail on that score. I enjoyed his work in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” (click here for my review) but not so much in the similar “After the Sunset” (click here for my review). He also played a spy for the opposing team (Russia) in “The Fourth Protocol” (click here for my review).
  • Yeoh is energetic and does a good job convincing you that she’s a top-notch spy. Like Pryce, she doesn’t try to overplay the role and that’s a big plus in her favor. I haven’t seen much of her other work, so I can’t compare efforts with other films. Yeoh was in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
  • Pryce was a good choice here, but I believe he would have done a better job as a different kind of super villain. In any case, we’re left with him a media mogul. Even with the limitations, he does a good job with this character. Pryce has been simply terrific in so many kinds of roles from a junk bond king (“Barbarians at the Gate” – click here for my review) to a weak man in “Glengarry Glen Ross” to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
  • Hatcher is so sluggish in her role that somnambulant would be energetic for her. She does a nice Bond girl (I don’t like the moniker for an obviously mature woman – check out skater Lynn-Holly Johnson in “For Your Eyes Only” for that type of Bond girl), but only in the sneaky-peeky scene in underwear but otherwise filmmakers should have discarded the casting as soon as shooting started. Hatcher was a completely different actor the year before in the outstanding “2 Days in the Valley” (click here for my review) by being effective and competent – neither attribute can be said of her here.
  • The villain’s henchman here is played most effectively by Götz Otto. At first I thought he was vapid and incompetent as an actor in a Dolph Lundgren kind of way, but as he continued through the film I began to appreciate his work in “Tomorrow Never Dies” He does a good job of being cold and effective and is especially good in his showdown fight scene with Brosnan. He has been in “Ossi’s Eleven” (a German version of “Ocean’s Eleven”) and in “Downfall,” which is an historical film focusing on Hitler’s secretary.

Judi Densch continues her good work as 007 boss “M” and brings a wonderfully elevated psychology to the role. I haven’t reviewed the work of the support staff for 007 (except for the “M” character) and won’t do that here except to note that Desmond Llewelyn is in his next-to-last role as the longsuffering technology director “Q.” Llewelyn’s last would be “The World is Not Enough” two years later (it came out the year of his death at age 85 in a head-on highway crash).

Director Roger Spottiswoode has a wonderfully eclectic resume. His first effort was the terrific horror flick “Terror Train” with everyone’s favorite “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis (click here for my review). He would go on to the wonderful HBO film “And the Band Played On” (click here for my review). He hasn’t done anything since “Tomorrow Never Dies” that I’ve seen.

Tomorrow Never Dies” was the 10th ranked film at U.S. theaters in 1997 as it earned $125.3 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Worldwide, the film made $333 million on its budget of $110 million, according to Wiki. Of course “Titanic” was the No. 1 film with a staggering $600.7 million (more than double of the No. 2 film, “Men in Black,” and its $250.6 million).

The year of 1997 had some seriously outstanding films that I have reviewed. They include:

Alas, not every film I reviewed form that year is good. “The Jackal” (click here for my review), which is the semi-remake of “The Day of the Jackal” (click here for my review of that one), was one of those films that define “terrible.”

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • At nearly 200, according to IMDb.com and other internet sources, the film has the most kills of any James Bond film.
  • Tomorrow Never Dies” is reportedly the only Bond film that didn’t debut at No. 1 at the box office. When it came out, “Titanic” was in theaters and “Tomorrow Never Dies” opened at No. 2.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “When they had to re-shoot the car park scene it was too expensive to go back to Germany so it was done at Brent Cross shopping centre in London. Posters around the stores told shoppers that the explosions were nothing to worry about. It took ten days to shoot this car park scene and seventeen BMWs were used.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Teri Hatcher says that she accepted her role in this movie to fulfill her then husband’s lifelong dream of being married to a Bond girl. As it turned out, her scenes had to be filmed quickly because of an unexpected pregnancy. She later expressed her dissatisfaction with the part, saying it was “an artificial kind of character to be playing that you don’t get any special satisfaction from it.”
  • Click here for IMDb.com’s extensive trivia page about the film.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2015.
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