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Nobody Wears It Better: Clad in an Ursula Andress-style bikini, Halle Berry gives Pierce Brosnan an eyeful in 'Die Another Day.'


Seven of the 10 movies in 'Die Another Day' were astonishing

By Richard von Busack

AS Q, JOHN CLEESE has a snippy teenager's line: "It's called the future--get used to it." But some of the elements in Die Another Day are examples of depressing futurism. At times, the new Bond movie is like watching the musical comedy degenerate from Fred and Ginger to Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!. What once was smooth and balletic is now blown by digital prop wash.

"Watch how he moves," the Bond film producers used to say, as they urged Sean Connery to walk across a room for a visitor. The sheer largeness of Die Another Day makes that sense of simple human momentum impossible.

Still, this 20th official Bond is as surreal and fantastic as Goldfinger must have been on the day it opened. The spy story--a version of The Count of Monte Cristo--shifts smoothly into berserk science fiction, with war satellites, laser beams, invisible cars, bushels of "conflict diamonds" ("blood diamonds"), an ice palace the size of a cathedral and "DNA-replacement therapy." The diamond-studded villain, Zao (Rick Yune) only made it halfway through a DNA session: it's James Bond vs. Frankenstein.

The mastermind, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens, Maggie Smith's son), is a flashy industrialist given to outré publicity stunts; he disguises himself in plain sight while redrawing the world's map. Graves seems to be based on Sir Hugo Drax in Ian Fleming's novel Moonraker: a wealthy showboater who can't hide his psychopathic bad sportsmanship. In Die Another Day, he turns ugly during a tremendous saber fight with Bond in the historic Reform Club. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are real wits--the jokes work better in the film than they do in the trailers--but extracting Drax shows they're in tune with Fleming's outsized imagination.

The sturdy internationalism of the Bonds is refreshing after all the current jingoism. Die Another Day teases American politics with lines like "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

We have here the ancient gaff of the Oriental villain who went to Harvard, but only the Bond films would have given that villain a line like "I majored in Western hypocrisy." There's always a sense of a larger picture in this large picture: a touch of John Le Carré in the way 007 is left in the cold by M (Judi Dench). Or the way our long-beloved hero gets called "a blunt instrument"--which he is, in certain lights.

Die Another Day is a wizardry action film on a mammoth scale, but there aren't enough interludes of luxury. I miss the lost chances to get a good look at the female leads: sleek Halle Berry--an NSA agent named Jacintha, called "Jinx"--or the unsettlingly pretty Shakespearean actresses Rosamund Pike as an MI6 agent. The two women's tempers match the hot and cold theme of your average Bond movie, as Die Another Day moves from Havana (lovingly faked in Cadiz, Spain) to Iceland.

Ultimately, Die Another Day is the real article in the way the dozens of imitations aren't. The enormous, outrageous ideas are elements the imitators won't use because "they're too much like a Bond movie." Since a Bond movie isn't afraid to be like a Bond movie, that leaves the field open even after 20 installments.

Die Another Day (PG-13; 123 min.), directed by Lee Tamahori, written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, photographed by David Tattersall and starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, opens Nov. 22.

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From the November 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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