Occasionally, I feel like the English language doesn’t allow for–without a lot of adjectives–a reasonable description of something. In this case, I can’t possibly describe the heights of stupidity License to Kill’s screenplay reaches. I mean, for a film to feature a South American drug kingpin with a base more appropriate for Dr. No, it has to be pretty stupid. But for it to feature a chemistry-free, love-at-first-sight romance (between Dalton and Carey Lowell, whose character is terribly written and whose performance is nowhere near as bad as Talisa Soto’s) after a bar fight… it’s simply incredible. The “modernizing” of the Bond villain to the drug kingpin is ludicrous, even if Robert Davi has some good moments, really good ones, but to throw people to leftover sharks from Jaws: The Revenge….
License to Kill is so dumb, I forgot to open this post with the line I’ve been waiting to use–my friend refers to License to Kill as James Bond’s Lethal Weapon. Between Michael Kamen doing the music and Grand L. Bush having a thankless, minuscule role, it really is an attempt to Americanize James Bond and it’s a failure. John Glen doesn’t get how to do action scenes or fight scenes. He gets how to do great special effects scenes–or the second unit director does–but otherwise, Glen is a liability to a ultra-violent Bond film. I mean, Bond’s not just killing people in this one, he’s torturing them.
The setup with Bond in Florida for Felix Leiter’s wedding, not to mention giving him friends, really does work. It works so well, I forgot it was Priscilla Barnes (she’s okay–her character is apparently a complete drunk–but a “Three’s Company” connection is a little distracting). But everything falls apart when, instead of killing all the bad guys, Bond makes off in a hydroplane in a well-executed special effects and stunts sequence. The writers don’t get it, the director doesn’t get it… Dalton barely gets it.
Dalton’s performance as Bond is quite good, creating a character who can believably have friends as well as everything else (though he does not come off as irresistible, something the script requires of him). Desmond Llewelyn has a lot to do as Q becomes a field agent and he’s a lot of fun–even if he is a little odd in the otherwise dark story. Wayne Newton’s fantastic as a televangelist in an overblown cameo.
As a tonal shift, License to Kill is a mistake (the script belongs in a direct-to-video movie from the early 1990s, starring a soap star who thought it’d be his breakout role), as is setting the film in the United States. It’s over two hours, but it’s boring… it’s nice Dalton can pull off a boring James Bond and it’s too bad he didn’t make more… but what’s the point? It doesn’t work as action adventure and it doesn’t work as revenge action.
Directed by John Glen; written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; director of photography, Alec Mills; edited by John Grover; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Peter Lamont; produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Wilson; released by United Artists
Starring Timothy Dalton (James Bond), Carey Lowell (Pam Bouvier), Robert Davi (Franz Sanchez), Talisa Soto (Lupe Lamora), Anthony Zerbe (Milton Krest), Frank McRae (Sharkey), David Hedison (Felix Leiter), Wayne Newton (Professor Joe Butcher), Benicio Del Toro (Dario), Anthony Starke (Truman-Lodge), Everett McGill (Ed Killifer), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Pedro Armendáriz Jr. (President Hector Lopez), Robert Brown (M), Priscilla Barnes (Della Churchill), Don Stroud (Heller), Caroline Bliss (Miss Moneypenny), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Kwang) and Grand L. Bush (Hawkins).