Saturday, December 2, 2006

Reel To Reel: Casino Royale

Bond's back and blond.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Violence, Some Brief Sex, Male Nudity

As much as I like Pierce Brosnan, and as much as I like him as 007, I have to admit the James Bond franchise was going stale. The only things keeping this series going besides Brosnan's looks were his one-liners and the cool spy toys.

So the producers rebooted with Daniel Craig, who up to his crowning as the new Bond was known for his role in Layer Cake, a movie I have not seen. Whether they made the right choice will take more than one film to answer. From what I saw on the screen, he's giving us more grit than grins, putting him more in tune with Ian Fleming's vision of Bond. He's less hormonal but still can turn on the charm. But Craig's most memorable feature is his piercing blue eyes. They can melt hearts or break bones as required.

Casino Royale returns to Ian Fleming's original material, placing Bond in a big-money poker game -- which conveniently is no-limit Hold-'Em, cashing in on the current craze. He's playing against terrorist financier extrordinaire Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), which makes the World Series of Poker look like the Friday night game at Larry's. Bankrolling Bond is royal financier Vesper Lynd (Green), who quickly becomes 007's desire. She's no disposable Bond girl, matching his wit measure for measure.

But come on, we all go to these films for the action, and Casino delivers. The most remarkable sequence is a long foot chase early in the film which winds all over a construction site as Bond chases a bombmaker onto a construction crane. I wonder if CGI lowered the danger level of some stunts, but it sure doesn't look like it.

Bond shows signs of vulnerablity throughout the film, a refreshing change from previous outings as Bond catches up to brethren like XXX and The Bourne Identity. However, I still miss "R" -- "Q's" successor played in previous films by John Cleese. It is obvious Eon Productions is trying to get away from some old routines -- just don't get too far away.

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