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Movie Review: CASINO ROYALE

It's been a long time coming, but the producers of the James Bond series, who are descendents of the family that has maintained "artistic" control of the series ever since its inception, have finally loosened their grip ever so slightly and allowed for an attempt at reinvention. For thirty years, more or less (or to be more exact, the moment Sean Connery left), the series has struggled with staleness and predictability with few exceptions. This was never more true than with the Roger Moore era, where the daring-does of an ancient relic paled in comparison to the ever-inflated teen action movie market. Pierce Brosnan added just the right elements of athletic heroics and hyper-charged charisma to the role -- next to Connery, he did the greatest service to the iconic role of Bond.

Now comes Daniel Craig, a casting decision that was at first raked over the coals and is now nearly universally praised. Is he the Bond we've been waiting for?

Yes and no. Given the confines of the script, Craig plays the role with pitch perfect precision -- temperamental, stubborn, crazed and dangerous. The producers, though, have taken the wrong path in their Bond make-over, and forgotten the primary reason why the character is so appealing to men and women: Bond is a fantasy image for both sexes. Like any fantasy, we like him with a healthy dose of not only cunning brutism, but a sense of fun and mischief as well. That's what Craig, and Casino Royale, sorely lacks.

He's been turned into a cynical, joyless character for our cynical, joyless times. So much for escapism, which has always been the main motivation for attending a Bond film. He's predictably, painfully tortured here. Gone are the clumsy one-liners; they've been replaced with laborious psychology that illicit just as many groans. The movie is grossing an exorbitant amount of money, but aren't viewers disappointed that they're not given a good time?

On the plus side, the stunts are terrific (although the action is sporadic at best as the filmmakers have gone so far as to exclude a climax), the girls are beautiful and a few of the tentpole touches (the pop song/title sequence, the opening display of outrageous action) are intact.

The one moment when the film's tone really develops takes place in, of all things, a tender moment. Bond's beautiful sidekick buries herself under a running shower, haunted by the images of death she has just witnessed. She tells Bond, as he approaches and crouches beside her, that she can't get the blood off of her fingers. Bond takes her fingers into his mouth. In that one moment, Bond is brazen and kinkily romantic, and you chuckle at just how crisp and daring the moment is. For roughly ten seconds, you realize that after forty plus years, Bond may still have a few surprises up his sleeve. Next time, the producers would be smart to get a crackerjack screenwriter (Tarantino, anyone?) and director (Spielberg? Cameron? -- they've both expressed interest) and mine whatever life this series might have left. C

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