About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: The Langoliers

A small group of aeroplane passengers wake up mid-flight and realise everyone else has mysteriously and seemingly implausibly vanished- including the pilot, co-pilot, and flight attendants! The plane appears to be without damage and there is no visible trace of some kind of struggle on board. Thankfully among those left there’s a pilot (David Morse) from the same airline who just happened to be on board as a passenger. But what happened to everyone else? And why is slimeball yuppie passenger Mr. Toomey (Bronson Pinchot) such a volcanically ill-tempered arsehole? Dean Stockwell plays a mystery author, Christopher Collet is a dorky music student, Mark Lindsay Chapman plays a Brit with a mysterious and possibly violent occupation, Patricia Wettig is a teacher, and Kate Maberly plays a young blind woman. Frankie Faison and Baxter Harris play ‘black guy’ and ‘guy who loves to eat’ respectively.

Some terrible FX and a few really poor performances take the shine off an otherwise compelling “Twilight Zone”-ish two-part miniseries from 1995. Written and directed by Tom Holland (the director of “Fright Night”, the underrated “Thinner”, and the classic “Child’s Play”, he also has a cameo here as Chapman’s employer) and adapted from a Stephen King novella (part of Four Past Midnight), you’ll keep watching to see where it all ends up. It’s certainly very watchable. Just flawed in a couple of key areas.

Oddly enough the title beasties are not only awful to look at, but when you think about it, aren’t even all that necessary. Keep it as just a “Twilight Zone” riff on the Bermuda Triangle kind of deal, and the film would be much better, if perhaps less faithful to King. Sadly, you still have to put up with some pretty dreadful acting by Mark Lindsay Chapman, Kate Maberly, and especially a disastrously unrestrained Bronson Pinchot. A poor man’s Sean Pertwee, Chapman is irritatingly cliché as the darkly mysterious Englishman who we know ultimately isn’t a bad guy at all. He’s also one of these Brits whose accent somehow seems put-on, despite apparently being legit. Poor Maberly is even more irritating as a sickly sweet, ghastly written blind girl character who not only comes across as insultingly meek early on, but also never shuts the hell up and then just ends up being a heavy-handed symbol. It’s really Pinchot however, who threatens to drag this one down. He starts at shrill shouting and frothing at the mouth and stays there for the duration of his performance. Playing a high-strung, selfish yuppie shithead he’s already stuck with an impossibly thin role, but Pinchot gives one of the worst and most unrestrained performances not given by Nic Cage. His casting and performance are a real mistake.

On the plus side, David Morse is well-cast and rock-solid as a pilot from the same airline who just happens to be a mere passenger on this particular flight. Although he seems to have the same quizzical facial expression throughout, Dean Stockwell is well-cast as essentially the token King surrogate. A mixture of Poirot and Stockwell’s own “Quantum Leap” character, personally I think the character would have made more sense as a detective or scientist/professor. Making him a mere mystery novelist is a bit corny.

A fascinating premise carries this unevenly acted miniseries a long way. I mean, how does almost an entire plane-load of passengers just disappear mid-flight without the remaining passengers being aware? That’s just one of several interesting things going on here. The FX are among the worst CGI you’ll ever see, but you’ll still want to see how it all pans out. I wouldn’t mind someone taking another crack at this with a bigger budget.

Rating: B-

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Get Smart

Steve Carell (amiable as ever) stars as Maxwell Smart, AKA Agent 86, employee of spy agency CONTROL, who is more oblivious than outright stupid, and in fact, is a damn good hand at deciphering spy chatter. It’s a shame none of his colleagues ever care to read his reports. He’s way too eager, wanting so badly to be a field agent, like the heroic and charismatic Agent 23 (played by an amazingly cheerful Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), or the highly accomplished Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway). When nasty KAOS (the uber-crime syndicate yang to CONTROL’s yin) operative Sigfried (Terence Stamp) attacks CONTROL, taking out many of its agents, Agent 86 is called up for active duty and assigned a partner in Agent 99, who is less than enthused, as they try and track down Sigfried and hopefully prevent him from exploding a nuclear device. Alan Arkin is the Chief, James Caan plays a Dubya-esque US President, The Great Khali turns up as a thug, whilst Bill Murray plays a bizarre undercover agent for CONTROL.

This watchable 2008 Peter Segal (“50 First Dates”, “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult”) cinematic update of the 60s TV series has a lot to like, but it puts less emphasis on the laughs than it does the action and isn’t quite as much fun as you’d like. It could’ve been so much worse, though and there’s much more of the spirit of the original than in many big screen remakes of old TV shows I could name (“Bewitched”, “The Mod Squad”, and the abysmal “Miami Vice” spring to mind).

The casting of comedian/actor Carell is spot-on, even though he doesn’t really ape original Agent 86 (the late Don Adams, who spoofed his character on the terrific kids cartoon “Inspector Gadget”) like you might expect. He’s so talented that he can essentially play the same part in much the same way, but without stepping over into simple impersonation. It’s quite a fascinating act to watch. Meanwhile, Hathaway (in a role offered to Jennifer Love Hewitt and Rachel McAdams, both would’ve been fine choices too) has seldom been sexier on screen (“The Dark Knight Rises” may be the other main contender), and there’s some fun moments for Arkin (as good a replacement for the late Edward Platt as any), former wrestler ‘The Rock’ and even WWE’s much maligned (by wrestling fans) The Great Khali, doing a fine semi-tribute to Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel. Hilarious cameo by Bill Murray, in the film’s funniest scene by far, brief as it is.

The bad guys are a major letdown (Caan’s awful as the US President, too), though and the whole thing goes on way too long, with a dud climax. It’s almost a good movie, and much better than I was expecting from the lame previews, it ultimately misses (wait for it!) by that much. Perhaps this is due to the “Austin Powers” films and “True Lies” already covering much the same Bond spoof territory, or maybe it’s just that the TV series was better. Slightly bloated screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember (who later teamed up for the “Lilo & Stitch” rip-off “Home”), from the series created by the legendary Mel Brooks and less legendary Buck Henry.

Rating: C+

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Play Misty for Me

Smooth jazz DJ and all-round ladies’ man Clint Eastwood is trying to be a good boy for his girl (Donna Mills) who is back in town. Unfortunately, a prior one-night stand with his #1 fan/request caller (Jessica Walter) doesn’t understand this change of heart, and being that she’s a homicidal loon, she doesn’t take well to Clint’s insistence that their casual night together was a one-time dealer. Lock up your bunnies! John Larch plays a sardonic police detective, James McEachen is Clint’s suave co-worker, Clarice Taylor is Clint’s cleaning lady, and frequent director Don Siegel plays a bartender.

Before a miscast Glenn Close literally boiled a bunny, there was this 1971 ‘bunny boiler’ from star and debut director Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Hereafter”, “Sully”). Personally I think it’s his best directorial effort to date, and the best film of its chosen subgenre. If it were a little more taut, it could’ve been a minor masterpiece.

Some might not understand why, but Eastwood perfectly casts himself as a pants man in this (and he played a slightly similar part in “The Beguiled”), but if you’ve read anything about his romantic/personal life…yeah, he fits this role alright. He’s also convincing as a jazz enthusiast, as he is one in real-life. What I like about him in this and to an extent in “The Beguiled” is that the character he plays is flawed. In this, his casual way with the ladies gets him in trouble. So while it may be a bit egotistical to cast yourself as a ladies’ man in your directorial debut, his character here has the near-fatal flaw of being so eager to get laid that he’s ignorant to the trouble he’s about to wake up to. It’s far from a feminist film, but he’s clearly not painting his character in the most positive light. The guy’s a cad, albeit a cad who has a change of heart…potentially too late.

As good as Clint is though, this is unquestionably Jessica Walter’s film, in terms of character and performance. She’s absolutely sensational as the clearly and violently disturbed jilted one-night-stand turned bunny-boiling stalker. It’s one of cinema’s greatest ‘crazy psycho’ performances ever, in my opinion. It’s up there with Robert Walker in “Strangers on a Train”, Karl Boehm in “Peeping Tom”, and Anthony Perkins in “Psycho”. I really feel that strongly. Unlike “Fatal Attraction” where it defies belief that anyone would boink Glenn Close when they’re married to Anne Archer, Clint’s character is unmarried here, returning girlfriend Donna Mills is a bit dull, and Jessica Walter is certainly aesthetically pleasing. Walter really goes for broke as this girl loses her shit early in the piece and never finds her faecal matter again. Callous pants man or not, Clint doesn’t deserve this homicidal level of crazy. Aside from the rather bland Mills (there’s a problem when as an audience member you’re far more interested in the ‘bunny boiler’), the supporting cast is pretty good. Clint’s frequent Don Siegel even gives a solid turn in a small role as Murph the bartender (Go to IMDb’s trivia section to read an hilarious/cruel story about Clint’s direction of Siegel. It’s worth it). Even better are John Larch (a mixture of Walter Matthau and Jack Klugman), and a great cameo by the inimitable Clarice Taylor in a funny yet sad bit as Eastwood’s ill-fated cleaning lady. You may remember the late actress from stints on “Sesame Street” and “The Cosby Show”. Kudos too, to the nice low-level lighting by Bruce Surtees (“Dirty Harry”, “The Shootist”, “Sudden Impact”), an aesthetic that would become an Eastwood trademark in recent years. It’s superbly shot.

On the downside, Clint really ought to have pared this down a bit. I’d suggest getting rid of the dated appearance of a bitchy gay character (for a guy who is known to be pro-gay, several of his films tend to lean opposite to that, possibly as a reflection of the times) and also a needless scene at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Also perhaps worthy of excision is the scene where Roberta Flack’s perfectly nice ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ plays as Eastwood and Mills basically frolic on the beach. I can see why musically that song appeals to him, but it doesn’t fit lyrically or in any other way, especially when the preceding scene had someone being violently attacked.

Scripted by Jo Heims (who did uncredited story work on “Dirty Harry”) & Dean Riesner (“Coogan’s Bluff”, “Charley Varrick”, “The Enforcer”), this is a much better than average genre pic that could’ve been a great genre pic with some minor adjustments. Clint’s good in the lead, but Jessica Walter is sensational and deserved an Oscar nomination. It’s a shame that there’s been so many lesser imitations and variants through the years, stick with the originator.

Rating: B+

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: The Magnificent Seven

A small town is being bullied by a nasty capitalist named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who offers a measly amount of money for the land and kills anyone who dares to object. This causes widowed Emma (Haley Bennett) and fellow townie Teddy (Luke Grimes) to go in search of mercenaries to stand up to Bogue and his men (who include Cam Gigandet). Enter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter who accepts the call despite there not being any riches involved (These be po’ folk, after all). He in turn recruits wily gambler and heavy drinker Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), as well as Chisolm’s old war buddy Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Civil War sharpshooter whose war experience has left him with a possible loss of nerve. Robicheaux’s Asian companion and knife expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) also decides to join the fight. Eventually the troupe is rounded out by (I think) Half-French Half-Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, making zero impression) whom Chisolm declines to take the bounty on in exchange for his aide here, grizzled tracker and ‘Injun’ killer Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), and a mostly silent Comanche named Red Harvest (played by Alaskan-born Martin Sensmeier).

The 1960 original is my favourite western of all-time, I even think it’s superior to the film it was born out of, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic “The Seven Samurai”, which just didn’t have the iconic characters for me to gravitate towards. Anyway, I knew this 2016 remake from Antoine Fuqua (the terribly overrated “Training Day” and the abysmal “King Arfa: King of the Cockney Soccer Hooligans”) was not going to please me, nor in any way equal the John Sturges western it has taken the name of. I just hoped it would at least be an entertaining western in a time where few are even made. Unfortunately, this is a dreary and lifeless affair so cluttered with characters of little to no distinction that for a while there I thought there were 9 protagonists, not just 7. Scripted by Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”, “The Mechanic”, “The Equaliser”), Nic Pizzolatto (TV’s “True Detective”), and an uncredited John Lee Hancock (writer-director of the rather off-putting and corny “The Blind Side”), this is ahead of only the overrated “A Bug’s Life” so far as poor versions of this same basic tale are concerned (The best of which are the aforementioned John Sturges film, Roger Corman’s “Battle Beyond the Stars”, and the underrated comedy version “Three Amigos!”). Yes, even the Cannon cheapie “Seven Magnificent Gladiators” with Sybil Danning and Lou Ferrigno is more fun than this limp and lethargic disappointment.

It’s a shame, because there’s a few elements here that do work somewhat well. It all looks terrific, as Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore (“Avatar”, “The Equaliser”) show that they know how to shoot and light a western. The shot composition in particular shows that these guys have at least seen a couple of westerns in their time. Unfortunately, Fuqua and his screenwriters have no clue how to make a western overall, or at least not a good one.

It isn’t that they’ve blended a few of the characters from the 1960 film together or outright changed them (and really, none of the characters are the same as in the original, certainly not by name), it’s more that the characters just don’t resonate anywhere near as much. The best of the lot is actually Ethan Hawke, playing a mixture of the Robert Vaughn ‘veteran sharp-shooter reduced to a quivering mess’ role (my favourite character in the 1960 film) and Brad Dexter’s gold-happy friend of Yul Brynner’s. Hawke is terrific and his character is by far the most compelling, though Fuqua and his screenwriters sabotage him at one point. They try to make up for it near the end, but it was too late and had left a sour taste in my mouth. Byung-Hun Lee also fares perfectly fine in the James Coburn role, and it’s interesting that the part has gone from Japanese in “The Seven Samurai” to American in the 1960 “Magnificent Seven” and now South Korean here. I wish he were given more to do, but I had the same wish of Coburn (one of my all-time favourite actors), as the role isn’t terribly large in either version. Vincent D’Onofrio doesn’t appear to be playing anyone remotely similar from the 1960 film, but his performance definitely seems inspired by Edmond O’Brien in “The Wild Bunch” (right down to his final moment on screen, actually). He’s not in the film enough, but when he is, he’s a hoot and a half. It’s not a subtle performance, but at least someone appears to be having fun here. The other standout performance is from an incredibly sweaty, sickly-looking Peter Sarsgaard as the straight-up mean villain. He won’t erase your memory of Eli Wallach and appears on screen possibly even less than Wallach did, but he steals his every scene nonetheless. Boy could the film have used a lot more of his menace, though.

Otherwise the characters are a bit blah (I had zero interest in Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s ‘Mexican outlaw doing a good deed for a change’), with the film getting confusing in numbers as to whether the Native-American character played by Martin Sensmeier, token female Haley Bennett, and/or Luke Grimes were among the ‘seven’ or not. I wasn’t kidding at the outset, it really felt like nine, not seven here. I said earlier that they sabotage the Hawke character, and Fuqua and his screenwriters definitely try to use the failings in the Hawke character to shamefully inject some ‘girl power’ into the film, which I found pretty foul to be honest. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the film, if you haven’t already and yes I do think it was done because someone noticed Bennett (who delivers one of the worst final lines to any movie of the last two decades at least) looks a bit like Jennifer Lawrence, making it even more shameful. I did find it interesting that Fuqua has changed the villagers’ ethnicity this time out, as poor Mexicans exploited by one of their own have been replaced by po’ white folk exploited by one of their own. The change doesn’t amount to anything though, as Fuqua doesn’t much care about the people of the town of Rock Ridge enough to give them personalities beyond Bennett and Grimes, arguably.

As for our two leading men, they don’t work out as well as you’d think at first glance. You’d think Denzel Washington would have the right dignified, stoic presence to play the Yul Brynner part (and unlike several of the others here, his black-clad character is pretty close to the one Brynner played), but Denzel’s having an off day here. He’s surprisingly boring and glum, dead weight really. Chris Pratt is better, but mostly because he’s not even trying to play things seriously. No, he’s not really playing the Steve McQueen role, I’m afraid. Instead, aside from some casual racism, it’s Chris Pratt doing Chris Pratt in the old west. That isn’t as successful as you might hope, but he at least has his moments of charm. This time around the fate of the seven has been changed (though the same amount are left alive), but that and the eventually revealed true motive of the Denzel character proved to be not quite to my personal taste. The latter in particular is too modernised for my liking, reminding me of at least a couple of previous Denzel films, one directed by Fuqua himself. The music score by the late James Horner (“Battle Beyond the Stars”, “Aliens”, “Titanic”, “Southpaw”) and his usual music arranger Simon Franglen (putting all of the pieces together after Horner’s sudden passing) is perfectly fine…but it’s just not Elmer Bernstein. In fact, when the familiar Bernstein theme finally comes in over the end credits all I could do was shake my head. It’s the exact wrong place to put such a rousing piece of music. For fuck’s sake, you’re supposed to open with it! The movie’s over now, dipshits.

A limp, lethargic remake that never needed to be done anyway. The 1960 film is practically perfect and this one just doesn’t come close to working, let alone being anywhere near able to touch its originator. Just watch the John Sturges film again instead or perhaps the sci-fi version “Battle Beyond the Stars”.

Rating: C-  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Poseidon

The plot? Umm, it’s about the title capsized cruise liner, and a few survivors who refuse to wait for help to come to them, and decide to rescue themselves. Kurt Russell is a former NY mayor and former NY fire-fighter (but you can call him Captain America) who is overly protective of daughter Emmy Rossum who in turn is dating Mike Vogel, much to Russell’s chagrin. Aussie Jacinda Barrett plays a single MILF (well, that’s really what she plays), travelling with son Jimmy Bennett. Richard Dreyfuss is a suicidal gay architect who thinks of going overboard before he sees a giant wave heading for the ship. Andre Braugher gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop as the pig-headed captain who wants everyone to stay put. Kevin Dillon plays a gambler named Lucky Larry, but that’s about it for his character’s development. Perhaps the most prominent character is Josh Lucas’s professional gambler, who turns reluctant hero when he takes a shine to Barrett and her kid. That’s Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie as the cruise singer, who instead of singing the godawful ‘Morning After’, decides to sing some even more lame-arse R&B number. I couldn’t wait for that damn wave to hit. Also on board are an Hispanic busboy (Freddy Rodriguez) and the cute stowaway (Mia Maestro) he’s attempting to hide.

Disappointing, strictly by-the-numbers 2006 remake of the classic (and genuinely entertaining) 70s disaster flick, is admittedly well-helmed by reliable director Wolfgang Petersen (“The Perfect Storm”, and the imaginative fantasy “The NeverEnding Story”). Unfortunately, by quickening the pace, beefing up the action and lessening the character development, the film never gives us anyone or anything to connect with. The original was full of caricatures, but these guys aren’t even on that level, and aside from sturdy Russell and Oscar-winner Dreyfuss, there are no ‘stars’ in sight. Lucas, Rossum, Dillon, and Barrett may all be solid actors (Lucas and Rossum especially), but none are compelling enough to make up for the depth lacking in their characters. As for Dreyfuss, he is a favourite actor of mine, but sadly hasn’t much to do here. co-star Russell joked on “The View” that he has the Shelley Winters role, but really, it’s more the Red Buttons role, with Buttons being one of my faves from the original. Dreyfuss gets much less to work with than Buttons did, though.

The action is mostly terrific and occasionally horrifyingly real, but that’s the only plus in this merely tolerable remake. Mind you, unlike the TV remake (with Rutger Hauer, Steve Guttenberg and Adam Baldwin leading the ‘stellar’ cast), there are no terrorists in sight here, so that’s a plus, and there is at least one terrific death scene where one character is forced to save themselves at the expense of someone else. It was really well-done and for me, quite unexpected. Screenplay by Mark Protosevich (the good-looking but awful Jennifer Lopez serial killer flick “The Cell”), allegedly based on Paul Gallico’s novel, features characters who are composites of characters from the original film, but only a few.

Rating: C+

Friday, October 13, 2017

Review: To Have and Have Not

Set in the early 1940s on the (French) Caribbean island of Martinique as France falls under Nazi occupation. Bogey plays an apolitical ex-pat American fishing boat captain who catches Lauren Bacall swiping the wallet of his latest client (Walter Sande). However, he soon realises that said client was about to run out on him without paying him the money he’s owed. When Sande winds up dead, Gestapo captain Dan Seymour seizes Bogey’s passport. Bacall wants Bogey to take her on his boat and off the island. Bogey, having already turned down an offer to help out the French resistance movement, has a change of heart (he needs the cash), agreeing to smuggle some people into Martinique whilst also helping Bacall get back to America (i.e. He develops a thing for her). Walter Brennan plays Bogey’s soused right-hand man, whilst Hoagy Carmichael plays a piano player called Cricket.

Like the more famous “Casablanca”, this 1944 film from director Howard Hawks (“Red River”, “Rio Bravo”, “El Dorado”) has enough slow spots to pull it back from being a classic for me. However, the two stars work and if this is kind of a B-grade “Casablanca” (albeit pretty classy for B-grade), it’s probably about equal in terms of quality. The film gets bogged down in the second half (and it’s obvious that Bacall’s part has been beefed up at the expense of someone else’s at some point during filming), but Bogey is good and in her screen debut Lauren Bacall is actually pretty amazing. 19 at the time, Bacall somehow suggests a world-weariness that she surely couldn’t possibly have possessed at her age, you would think. The real-life couple obviously show a lot of chemistry here that can’t be faked. The only thing that makes Bacall’s debut perhaps a bit less auspicious is her rather awful singing. That was a bit of a shame. Walter Brennan, meanwhile is perfect…scary perfect, playing a well-meaning but pathetic drunk. Less effective is Dan Seymour, who isn’t my favourite character actor and here is playing a blend of at least two “Casablanca” characters…and not very memorably.

It’s obvious what has happened here, they’ve taken Hemingway’s text…and thrown it out, replacing it with “Casablanca” (right down to Hoagy Carmichael playing a white Sam the Bartender). Still, it proves to be a mostly very entertaining watch, especially whenever the two stars are on screen. It’s impossible not to compare this film to “Casablanca”, and while this one lacks a few of the big names of the earlier film, the result is of a fairly similar quality.

The second half is lesser than the first, but overall this is solid stuff. It also serves as a reminder to people who complain about such things these days, that Hollywood has forever been taking literary works and ignoring them for the most part when supposedly adapting them. This one only takes the title from Hemingway’s novel and pretty much nothing else. Excellent music score by Franz Waxman (“Bride of Frankenstein”, “Rebecca”, “Rope of Sand”, “My Cousin Rachel”) and William Lava (who worked on a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons and short films), both strangely uncredited. The screenplay is by Jules Furthman (“Mutiny on the Bounty”, “Rio Bravo”) and William Faulkner, kinda sorta not really from the Ernest Hemingway novel. See it for Bogey and Bacall, not the plot.

Rating: B-

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Living Daylights

On a mission to rub out an assassin and assist in the defection of Russian General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), James Bond (Timothy Dalton) finds it difficult to complete the mission when he realises his intended target is a woman, cellist Kara (Maryam d’Abo), who is actually Koskov’s girlfriend. Koskov, who escapes unharmed, tells MI6 that rival General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) is behind the assassination attempt and Bond is sent to rub him out instead. Meanwhile, Bond gets to know Kara, and you know how that goes. Joe Don Baker plays American arms dealer and war buff Brad Whitaker, who plays a part in the criminal scheme at hand. Andreas Wisniewski plays a henchman fond of strangling his victims. Art Malik is Kamran Shah who is a Mujahadeen freedom fighter who proves a useful ally to Bond in the Middle East. Thomas Wheatley plays the frequently pissy British Secret Service affiliate Saunders, who sets up the initial defection plan and is annoyed when 007 goes rogue from those plans. Look out for Aussie “Farscape” actress Virginia Hey as Pushkin’s mistress.

This 1987 James Bond flick from director John Glen (“For Your Eyes Only”, “Octopussy”, “Licence to Kill”) was a work-in-progress for star Timothy Dalton. He and the film never quite find their footing. His next one, “Licence to Kill” would turn out even better than some of the Sean Connery entries. As you know by now, I tend to review Bond films a little differently, there’s a formula and set of pre-requisites to them. Here we start with seriously weak-sounding trumpets on the gun barrel theme, one of the worst of its kind. Things only get worse with the awful synth pop score by iconic Bond composer John Barry, his worst-ever music score by far and the worst-ever music score to a Bond film. Yes, even worse than Bill Conti’s ghastly disco-fied score for “For Your Eyes Only” and that shit was horrendous. Meanwhile, Robert Brown is still a dead-shit boring M. On the plus side, the opening 7 minutes is action-packed fun before the credits kick in. Sadly, the title song by A-Ha is…not their one memorable song. It defies belief that Barry is responsible for not only the score but had a hand in the songwriting too. Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is always a welcome sight but his ‘Ghetto Blaster’ gadget is indicative of one of the film’s issues: It’s very, very mid-80s and mostly not in the flattering sense. How 80s? In addition to that idiotic gadget, “Die Hard” henchman Andreas Wisniewski plays a henchman/assassin who strangles people with his Walkman headphones. This from a franchise that had already given us Lynn-Holly Johnson and Duran Duran. Don’t get me wrong, Wisniewski isn’t bad, in fact he’s a bit of goofy fun. It’s just that it’s the most easily dated film in the franchise next to maybe “Live and Let Die”, and Wisniewski’s obviously dubbed voice is pretty regrettable too.

The film isn’t known for having any iconic Bond villains, but Jeroen Krabbe is absolutely hilarious, slimy, and completely obviously a duplicitous phony defector. Transparent or not, the guy’s a lot of fun to watch and you wish he were in more of the film. As for the debuting Timothy Dalton? He got better in the next film, but even here he’s a better Bond than Daniel Craig and Roger Moore (who made some better Bond films, mind you), and a better actor than George Lazenby. In action-mode and anywhere outside the bedroom, he’s OK in this interpretation of the character (an interpretation that isn’t as close to Fleming as many would have you believe). There’s a cool bit with a car with a laser that cuts another car in half. In fact, the entire chase scene is fun, ending up on snowy terrain and featuring a car that seems to have everything. A V8 Vantage Aston Martin, it’s definitely my favourite 007 car alongside the (obviously entirely bullshit) Lotus Esprit car submarine in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. Despite mostly being no-nonsense by design, Dalton’s 007 even has a humorous moment or two, especially an hilarious scene with Q.

While Dalton shares some of the blame, it’s when Bond girl Maryam d’Abo turns up that things really start to go wrong for the film. She’s one of the blandest and least charismatic Bond girls of all-time and they share anti-chemistry together. Whatever Bond is supposed to see in this girl to make him want to go slightly off-mission…d’Abo is unable to project it on screen. It’s a massive problem given not only the importance and size of the role, but also because Bond falls so hard and fast for her for…reasons, I guess. Her cello has more personality than she does. Caroline Bliss, meanwhile proves to be every bit as sexy and interesting as you want a Bond girl to be. Unfortunately, she’s playing Miss Moneypenny and 007 never does a goddamn thing with Moneypenny. Ever. Moving on from that, the other issue at hand here is secondary villain Brad Whitaker, played by the very dependable character actor Joe Don Baker. It’s a good thing Baker was later given a different character to play in the Pierce Brosnan 007 films because Whitaker is…underwhelming. At one point d’Abo refers to Whitaker as ‘a patron of the arts’. He plays with toy soldiers and is played by Joe Don Fuckin’ Baker. The hell he’s a patron of the arts, lady. Baker’s actual performance is fine, but the character doesn’t work. The buffoonish Whitaker might’ve worked if Krabbe’s character weren’t also campy, or if Krabbe had more scenes to compensate. Krabbe’s good, just not menacing and indeed that is what the film lacks a bit of. Something about the balance isn’t quite right either way on the villainous side, though John Rhys-Davies always manages to bring fun in even the worst of films. Here he’s essentially playing the Robbie Coltrane ‘not-so bad guy’ part from the Brosnan 007 films, but for the Dalton era.

Truth be told, there’s way too many characters here in the messy script by Richard Maibaum (Just about every Bond film since “Dr. No”) and Michael G. Wilson (“For Your Eyes Only”, the underrated “Octopussy”, “Licence to Kill”). Veteran character actor Geoffrey Keen (in his final film role) is typically solid but as unnecessary as he was in some of the Roger Moore films, and a flagrantly irritating Thomas Wheatley doesn’t need to be here in a film that already has Felix Leiter (John Terry plays the part here and is at least better than the guy from “Thunderball”) serving a similar function. I haven’t even mention the late and overlong excursion to Afghanistan, which has aged about as well as “Rambo III”. 9/11 makes 80s action movies uber-awkward (some from the 90s too, actually). Art Malik is truly superfluous here, and his far too posh accent doesn’t help either. Tedious stuff as we basically have the climax from “Rambo III” playing out a year earlier here. That said, the subsequent scene with Whitaker is a bit of campy fun, though Malik’s line ‘Sorry we’re late. We had some trouble at the airport’ is…yeah. Let’s not even discuss that one. Capping things off is a shit song by The Pretenders, who are shit. Yes they are. It’s a scientific fact.

I enjoyed some of this Bond flick, but the romance and leading lady are a wash, and the music is atrocious (It was John Barry’s series swan song too), and there are far too many characters to properly handle. Dalton isn’t bad in his debut, but he and the franchise hadn’t quite figured out the direction they wanted to go yet. Although not plentiful enough, the action is good. The film so-so, although it looks better compared to the previous and absolute worst film in the series, the bloated “A View to a Kill”.

Rating: C+