Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Licence to Kill" (1989)

Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell and Robert Davi
Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum
Directed by John Glen
Rated PG-13 - Violence, drug content
Running Time: 133 Minutes

While en route to his friend Felix Leiter's (David Hedison), James Bond (Timothy Dalton) helps Leiter apprehend a dangerous drug lord named Sanchez (Robert Davi).  But Sanchez soon escapes after bribing a DEA agent, and sends his men after Leiter.  Bond finds Leiter's wife dead, and Leiter himself half-eaten by a shark and barely alive.

Bond wants revenge, but his superiors at MI6 won't allow him to pursue Sanchez.  Bond hands in his resignation and decides to do it himself.  He begins to unravel Sanchez' drug running operation in Florida, run by a man named Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe) who runs a research lab as a cover for the drugs, and steals $5 million in cash from Sanchez' latest shipment.

Bond hooks up with ex-CIA pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) who helps him get into the Republic of Isthmus.  There, using the $5 million he stole from Sanchez, he works to infiltrate Sanchez' operation, framing Krest as a traitor to gain Sanchez' trust.  When Bond's first attempt to kill Sanchez gets him captured, he finds himself alone on the inside and in a unique position to not only get revenge for his friend, but to take down a massive worldwide drug organization.

"Licence to Kill" is a pretty interesting James Bond film.  While other films in the franchise sometimes try to give Bond an emotional reason for going off on his mission and being a little out of control, "Licence to Kill" is the only time Bond has ever actually gone rogue against orders.  As such, it doesn't really follow the pattern of other James Bond films and feels almost like an odd duck of the series.

"Licence to Kill" has a lot less of the ridiculousness that permeates much of the franchise.  Even Bond's crazy gadgets supplied by Q (Desmond Llewellyn) in the second act aren't all that crazy - such as a gun that requires Bond's fingerprints to function or a bomb disguised as a pack of cigarettes.  The subject matter is also a little unusual, with no sign of anyone plotting world domination (aside from perhaps the world domination of the cocaine market).  Bond is really just taking on a drug dealer, which is rather down to earth compared to, say, "Moonraker."

Part of the problem, however, is the James Bond character himself is often impulsive and a little bit reckless anyhow.  While the film goes to great lengths to avoid being the typical James Bond film, at the end of the day, it doesn't really go far enough in certain respects.  Aside from ditching his role as a legitimate MI6 agent, Bond doesn't really do anything he wouldn't have done if he were ordered to go after Sanchez by M.  It would have been nice to see more of MI6 trying to apprehend Bond, but this really only comes up once.

As it is, though, "Licence to Kill" is already a long film, running over two hours, and feels a little stuffed even then.  Luckily, there's some great action sequences on display here, especially the opening battle and Bond's capture of Sanchez' plane by looping a cable around the tail in mid-air, and the climax featuring a chase between multiple tanker trucks loaded with gasoline and cocaine.

The casting isn't all that impressive.  Robert Davi is fine as Sanchez, but he doesn't get the chance to chew the scenery like other Bond villains, so he feels very small and restrained by comparison.  The two Bond girls, Pam and Lupe (Talisa Soto), Sanchez' girlfriend, are both fine but again, restrained and not hugely memorable.  Pam becomes problematic later on when her jealousy over Lupe's affections for Bond make her act like a petty teenager instead of a grown woman.

An expanded role for Q is very welcome, though.

Overall, "Licence to Kill" is a pretty interesting turn for the James Bond franchise, but it just doesn't go far enough with its premise as it should.  With a solid script and some cool action sequences, though, it's definitely a worthwhile entry.

See Also
James Bond