Monday, March 5, 2012

"Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997)

Starring Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce and Michelle Yeoh
Written by Bruce Feirstein
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language, sexual themes
Running Time: 119 Minutes

After a British naval vessel is sunk in Chinese territorial waters, tensions between the two powers spiral towards war.  But British Intelligence receives word that the ship may have been lead astray by a mysterious signal that fed it erroneous GPS coordinates, and that the media knew about the sinking of the ship before either government.  Suspicious of this, M (Judi Dench) assigns her best agent, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to investigate Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), the head of the media conglomerate about to launch a groundbreaking world-wide satellite news network.

Bond discovers that his old flame Paris (Teri Hatcher) is now Carver's wife, and M orders him to use his former relationship to get close to Carver's organization and discover what connection Carver has to the sinking of the HMS Devonshire before Britain and China go to war.  But when Paris ends up dead, Bond must partner with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese agent who also suspects Carver of wrong-doing.

Together they discover that Carver intends to start a war between Britain and China to spur the ratings of his new network, and has made connections in the Chinese government for the exclusive broadcasting rights in that country that will make him the most influential and powerful man in the entire world, able to topple or control governments and economies by manipulating the flow of information through his media empire.

I have to give props to "Tomorrow Never Dies" for having a pretty interesting idea.  The premise is one of the more uniquely modern ideas in the latter Bond films, exploring the concept of worldwide media and just how interconnected our society has become just in the last couple decades.  We are inundated with information from all over the world and from a number of sources.  If one person were able to control all that, the amount of power in that man's hands would be incredible.

It's unfortunate, then, that "Tomorrow Never Dies" often feels like little more than a pedestrian action flick. The attempt to make the film a little more personal for Bond by introducing Paris as a former lover is welcome, but ultimately doesn't do much good for the story at all since Bond would pretty much do everything he does anyway regardless of whether or not she's there.  Teri Hatcher got top billing for a role that amounts to only a few minutes of screen time.

Jonathan Pryce is a fine actor and has charisma and seems to enjoy chewing scenery as a cheesy villain, but his lines are so lame it's hard to care.  It's also obvious whenever he's typing at one of his computers that he's actually just slapping random keys rather than actually typing anything which makes those scenes come across as supremely silly.

And because it must be slavish to some of the firmly established concepts of the Bond franchise, Bond's awkward last-second romance with Wai Lin feels entirely shoehorned in.

Still, there's some fine action on display here. The film starts with a great opening sequence in which 007 destroys a terrorist arms market and makes off in a stolen jet with some missing nuclear warheads.  Later, there's a pretty cool car chase between Bond's remote-controlled BMW and some of Carver's thugs through a closed parking garage in Germany.  A motorcycle chase through Saigon starts off well, but loses its luster partway through when stunt doubles and dummies start to become painfully obvious (especially when the helicopter explodes, you'd have to be blind to miss the plastic people in the cockpit).  And the climax is decent, but somewhat pedestrian gun battle aboard Carver's ridiculous 'stealth boat' that features plenty of explosions and fisticuffs, but isn't particularly clever in any fashion.

All in all, "Tomorrow Never Dies" is a nugget of a great idea wrapped up in mediocre execution.  The script is nothing fancy, with some of the one-liners becoming truly painful and the action becoming less impressive as the film rolls on.

See Also
James Bond