The spy who gagged me.

Chips and a dip
by Thomas Delapa
Boulder Weekly

When British actor Daniel Craig was announced as the
new James Bond, hardcore 007 fans went ballistic.
"Bland, James Bland," they dubbed him. In his defense,
Craig told Entertainment Weekly, "They hate me.
They're passionate about it, but I do wish they'd
reserve judgment."

Deal or no deal, judgment day has come for Craig and
Casino Royale, the 21st Bond movie extravaganza. Get
ready to flush, because this blue-eyed and blond Bond
has a license to bore.

In the bygone line of screen Bondage, dating back to the
nonpareil Sean Connery and the rudely retired Pierce
Brosnan, Craig comes up short (literally) of even George
Lazenby, the Aussie actor who had only one assignment,
1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The spy who
gagged me, Craig is to Connery what Mini-Me is to
Austin Powers' Dr. Evil.

Gambling on Craig to carry on their billion-dollar
franchise, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara
Broccoli chose author Ian Fleming's first entry in the
phenomenally resilient Bond series. Fleming's über
secret agent was a cultural product of the Cold War
(and British end-of-empire blues), but the fall of the
Berlin Wall has only meant that Bond's "license to kill"
was upgraded to include renegade commies, terrorists,
mad media moguls and other high-value targets.

Casino Royale deals out a losing hand, starting with the
astounding absence of Monty Norman's killer theme
music in the opening credits. The screenwriters
(including Oscar-winner Paul Haggis) pay lip service to
Fleming's 1954 book, but they've modernized it by
playing and pandering to U.S. audiences in the age of
ESPN, not the USSR. Most of the book involves Bond's
cryptic game of high-stakes baccarat. Now 007 must go
mano a mano with his foe in a made-for-TV game of
Texas hold 'em poker. Yee-haw, pardner.

Yet director Martin Campbell's introduction of Bond is
neither as card shark nor suave, karate-chopping spy. In
a set-piece befitting Jackie Chan, not Jimmy Bond, Craig
acrobatically chases an anonymous bad guy through the
Ugandan jungle and up and down a construction crane.
Surly and jut-jawed, Craig is not a kinder and gentler
Bond. According to his exasperated and expendable
boss, M (Judi Dench), he's just a blunt instrument.

It's no coincidence that Bond visits a Miami Body
Worlds exhibit as a prelude to another no-brain chase.
Craig's freakish, barrel-chested physique sculpts the
new Bond as a Y2K caveman of few words. Craig doesn't
even get to say, "My name is Bond, James Bond." This
guy would be more comfortable ordering steroids,
shaken not stirred, instead of a martini.

Bond's penultimate showdown takes place at a casino in
Eastern Europe, where he faces down Le Chiffre (Mads
Mikkelson), a tycoon of terrorism whose evildoing is
signified by his bleeding eyeball. Reluctantly bonding
with Bond is a dishy British treasury agent (Eva Green)
who's supplying the stakes for 007 to play.

Everything is in on the table in Casino Royale's royally
dull denouement, from torture and betrayal and death in
Venice to Bond's handy pocket defibrillator that could
bring him back to life. Campbell and the film's gambling
producers shouldn't have bothered. This 007 is DOA,
though odds are he'll return to die another day.