The Spy Who Bored Me

rex 7 The Spy Who Bored Me Quantum of Solace
Running Time 106 minutes
Written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade
Directed By Marc Forster
Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Mathieu Amalric, Olga Kurylenko

James Bond movies long ago outgrew the original fun and thrills invented by Ian Fleming, and they’ve been coasting on noise and luck ever since. Quantum of Solace, the 22nd entry in the interminable franchise, is one of the most pointless, chaotic and forgettable of them all. It is also one of the dullest.

The Bond checklist is always a bit like Mexican food—spicy and bloating for the moment, promising exotic locations, tech toys, outrageously expensive cars ready to be demolished at random, outrageous villains thinking up inhumanly monstrous tortures, secret agents navigating humanly impossible escapes, sexy girls wearing Band-Aids, and mindless satisfaction guaranteed. It’s not until later that you realize the ingredients are the same, you can’t remember what you had the night before, and no matter how they dress it up, an enchilada is just an enchilada.

With Quantum of Solace, which sports a senseless title destined to be forgotten before it even reaches the shelves at Blockbuster, you juggle the staples in Column A with the extras in Column B and you still come up with the same cogitation—a shabby, humorless disappointment with little to offer besides lazy setups with no story, character development or plot, and what thrills it has are stolen from old Bond films. Instead of the girl dipped in gold and left on the bed to die in Goldfinger, we get the girl dipped in crude oil and left on the bed to die. The boat chases are from Live and Let Die, and the opening eight-minute stunt-filled chase across the construction gangplanks and collapsing rooftops of Siena is like Casino Royale on rewind. And while you’re wondering what happened to imagination and originality, you might ponder the sad puzzle of what they’ve done to Bond himself. The 007 of ’07 introduced by newcomer Daniel Craig was a hunk with heart. Now he’s been morphed into a killing machine with a gene-spliced heart transplant, reduced to pure marble. Mr. Craig is a versatile actor who can play pretty much whatever they throw at him. But when there’s nothing to play, he’s an action comics wind-up toy with a furrowed brow.

Start with a premise instead of a plot. Bond is still smarting emotionally from the betrayal of Vesper Lynd, the woman he naïvely trusted and unwisely loved, who came to a particularly long, drawn-out and painful end in Casino Royale. This one picks up one hour later, and you better remember what happened. Questions will be asked. The evil organization that blackmailed Vesper is so complex that it spreads across the globe like Dijonnaise. Without an official assignment, Bond, heads in every direction, fueled by revenge. All roads lead to bug-eyed arch villain Dominic Greene, a phony environmentalist played by a wasted Mathieu Amalric from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Unafraid of dictators, military juntas or rampaging armies, this arch villain’s goal is to control the water supply of South America, so naturally Bond’s pursuit comes with a boarding pass. First stop: Haiti, where Bond smashes up a marina of speedboats and breaks the neck of another agent between rum fizzes. On to Austria, where he wipes out an important member of the special branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service at the opera, during a performance of Tosca. Infuriated, M cancels his credit cards, secret IDs and travel permits, but Bond is now a lunatic unhinged, offing enemies, allies, Americans, even the secretary of the British prime minister. In Bolivia, the pretty agent dispatched to put him on the next plane to London ends up in his bed before sundown and in the morgue before dawn. Enter a new Bond girl played by curvy Olga Kurylenko. She’s as tough and cold-blooded as he is. They seem like sang-froid ciphers. He wants Greene. She wants the military general who raped and killed her mother and sister. What a fox. One minute she machine-guns an entire regiment in military fatigues, the next day she walks across the Bolivian desert in a cocktail dress, barefoot. Bolivia is played by Panama.

M is once again played by Judi Dench. The Bond films finance the serious part of her career, but this time she does more than drop by to lend a bit of class to the sweat and carnage. Unexpectedly, M develops a maternal instinct, forgiving Bond’s renegade revolt, and offering no stronger reprimand than “If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated.” The new M stands for Mummy.

The new 007 is somewhat less tolerable. He’s gone through a lot of changes since he made his first appearance, in Dr. No (1962). He was so suave as Sean Connery that purists have never accepted anyone else. He was nothing anybody remembers—a zero—as George Lazenby. (Say who?) He was prettier in a tux than anything off the rack at Marks and Spencer as Roger Moore. As Timothy Dalton, he was just passing through. He was handsome but limited as Pierce Brosnan. If the scripts improve, he’s got a future as Daniel Craig, who does hard drinking, knuckle-slugging and slut-shtupping with equal aplomb. He’s the first actor who makes Bond look like a street punk. But the glamour is on hiatus, and all that’s left are the fists. I’m not craving much, but is it too much to ask for a small shred of what we used to call … purpose?

James Bond without wit and charm has a chromosome missing. With so much tightrope balancing, exploding vehicles, biplane dogfights and avoidance of hanky-panky in the Porthault, there’s no time for the sex, humor, style and gimmicks that have always been part of the Bond appeal. The new Bond is mean, lean, flavorless as green tea and too arrogant to be much fun. Daniel Craig is brutal, nasty and as short as Alan Ladd (who did love scenes with tall women as they stood in a ditch). In Quantum of Solace, there’s no time to even show off his artillery in the latest Speedo. Even with the furious pacing, Marc Foster’s direction is curiously without any kind of edge or tension, and where are those famous James Bond one-liners? The screenplay is deadly, despite the fact that it was partially written by Paul Haggis (Crash). I’ve been as happily distracted by the 007 movies as the next guy, but this time Bond really does seem bound. Let’s hope the bondage is temporary.

rreed@observer.com