Forgetting that Diamonds Are Forever's Willard Whyte proved the series to be as satirically insightful as a Carry On film, this one pitches Bond against his most fearsome enemy yet- a mincing media mogul called Mupert Rurdoch. Sorry, he's called Elliot Carver, and he calls upon that most played-out of Bond villain plots, inciting a war between two nations in order to profit from the ensuing chaos, and tries to crack exclusive broadcasting rights in China. Ooh...
I could go on for longer about Elliott Carver, who is probably the worst Bond villain ever, but he's a problem that begins with the script, which is definitely the worst the series has ever had. With MGM piling on pressure, after the success of GoldenEye, this became one of those films that went into production without a finished script. There was a major shift away from the original plot, which involved the then-current transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, and returning Bond screenwriter Bruce Feirstein handed over his draft to three other, uncredited writers before production was over. And boy, does it show in the film.
For one thing, the dialogue is absolutely awful. The Tomorrow Never Dies drinking game surely includes a perilous clause about each time somebody starts a line with "If I didn't know better..."- it even happens twice in one conversation, at one point! The quips are routinely terrible, except for a cracking "cunning linguist" pun from Moneypenny, and a rip-off of a line from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the rest of the dialogue is swamped with dreadful exposition. Jonathan Pryce manages to have the good grace to avoid looking too embarrassed with the script, even while doing "karate", but his co-stars fare less well, and the banter is delivered rather flatly throughout.
It doesn't surprise me that there's an option on the DVD to watch the film without the dialogue, partly because the script is so bad, but also because the score is terrific. David Arnold takes over composing duties, as the great John Barry's chosen heir to the series. He finds more ways to work that iconic theme music into the action than in the previous film, and the title song by Sheryl Crow isn't bad either. When the action begins to get boring and nonsensical, you can always sit back and listen to the music.
The other big positive is one of my new favourite henchmen, Dr. Kaufman, played by Vincent Schiavelli. He's in the film for less than five minutes, and he makes a bigger impression than Stamper, the Aryan lunk played by Götz Otto. His scene with Bond is both funny and deliciously nasty, giving Pierce Brosnan a chance to channel the darker impulses of Connery and Dalton, rather than aping Moore as he does for most of the movie. I also liked Brosnan's chemistry with Michelle Yeoh, who is otherwise consigned to a limited array of kicks during every single fight scene she's in.
At least Bond and Wai Lin have more going on than Bond and Paris Carver. Teri Hatcher has since talked about how she found the role unfulfilling, and even by Bond girl standards, she has very little to do. For the first time, we see Bond explicitly courting a married woman, but whatever their history together, it's all very unconvincing. I complained last month that Brosnan is far better at grunting and running, both of which are done with gusto throughout this one, than he is at cavorting with his female leads, and I reckon Yeoh is about the only time he built any kind of convincing chemistry- strange, given that the production was so chaotic.
Tomorrow Never Dies fully recedes into the Moore era, attempting to alchemically build a Bond film out of a shambolic script by calling upon a number of previously abandoned clichés, and the most worn-out plot in the book. Even the knowing critiques of Bond as a character in the previous film were preferable to this film's poorly aimed jab at mass media. Despite hitting a couple of all-time lows, there's enough good stunts, cool music and Dr. Kaufman in here to make it better than a Moonraker, or a Thunderball. But it's still Carry On Media Ethics, and it's a lamentable effort.
#18- Problem- an enemy pilot bastard is trying to garotte you with a wire. Solution- fire him out of the plane and keep everything crossed that he doesn't hold onto the wire and take your head with him.
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The Mad Prophet Will Return, With The World is Not Enough... in July.