Synopsis: A SPECTRE agent has stolen two American nuclear warheads, and James Bond must find their targets before they are detonated.
Stars: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow
Director: Irvin Kershner
Running Length: 134 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Before the release (and boffo success) of Skyfall, I took the time to go through the previous 22 James Bond films that had come before it. What I didn’t do in my initial marathon was look at two of the ‘rogue’ Bond films that exist outside of the production company responsible for the 007 films over the last 50 years. 1967’s Casino Royale was a spoof of spy films in general albeit one that featured James Bond and took its title from an Ian Fleming novel. The second outlier Bond adventure is 1983’s Never Say Never Again and its storied history and journey to the big screen are interesting Hollywood tidbits.
A script was fashioned with writers Kevin McClory, Ian Fleming, and Jack Whittingham that would have laid the basis for Bond’s first adventure. It eventually was scrapped but Fleming went on to use large parts of it to create the novel of Thunderball. While the movie of Thunderball was closer to the book, original writer McClory took Fleming to court over his contributions used without his permission and eventually was granted the remake rights to his script.
As the producers of the MGM Bond films were gearing up to film the 13th Bond film Octopussy in 1983, they had a big shock when they found out not only would McClory’s script be produced as a big budget summer film from Warner Brothers, but that Warner Brothers had lured none other than original Bond Connery to come back to the role. The media had a field day with this and while both movies were released four months apart and did respectable business, Never Say Never Again could never fully get out from under the shadow of the big daddy franchise.
It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t that great to begin with. Even with Connery on board and Moore on unsteady ground in his Bond tenure, Never Say Never Again comes off as a jokey excuse for a James Bond film. Legally, Warner Brothers couldn’t have many of the Bond trademarks so what’s left is a second rate spy film with several above average action sequences, extremely dated technology, and a heckuva lot of farcical moments that leave a real bad aftertaste.
Right from the beginning, director Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) doesn’t do Connery any favors by showing the actor goofily going through the motions of a rescue attempt in some unnamed jungle climate. Connery looks tentative and, while still a trim gent, seems a bit out of sorts. Like in Diamonds are Forever, it takes Connery a fair amount of time to find his inner Bond and even then it’s a pale imitation of what it used to be.
Casting for the film is iffy to say the least. As Domino, Basinger makes for a dull main squeeze of Mr. Bond and is burdened with two dance routines (one in aerobic gear and one all dolled up with Connery) that are laughably awkward. Brandauer and von Sydow may have been nice villains in the established Bond franchise but here they are saddled with feelings of déjà vu thanks to more memorable actors that have played bad guys Largo and Blofeld in previous films. Only Carrera as wicked Fatima Blush seems to understand that she’s in a farce and plays it as an early precursor to Grace Jones in A View to a Kill and Famke Janssen in GoldenEye. Her final scenes are pretty ridiculous but up until that point she’s over-the-top enough to keep your eyes locked on her.
Special mention needs to go to Edward Fox and Rowan Atkinson as M and Nigel Small-Fawcett, respectively. With accents that would make Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins look like the epitome of diction, they are absolutely awful and capsize every scene they’re in. How Kershner and Connery allowed these performances to happen are beyond me.
What Never Say Never Again has to recommend it are several exciting action sequences…thankfully all of them are underwater so you are spared the eye-rolling dialogue. I’m not sure how the filmmakers created an underwater chase with Bond being pursued by sharks (from what I can tell there weren’t extensive uses of animatronics) but this scene creates the few nifty thrills the film has to offer.
For Bond fans, this is one that may be of interest to you…especially if you are familiar with Thunderball you’ll get a kick out of how similar the movie is but how different it diverges at the same time. Thunderball wasn’t my favorite Bond film but had it had some of the more exciting moments (and Fatima Blush) from Never Say Never Again, it may have been up there with the more fun Bond flicks.