By Robert Baum
Timothy Dalton makes his second time around as Ian Fleming’s James Bond in the sixteenth 007 screen adventure, Licence to Kill. This film is more influenced by the sort of mega-action blockbusters produced by Joel Silver and not prior Bond efforts by producer Albert Broccoli. Dalton’s 007 is tough-as-nails and takes on a very real adversary: a cocaine kingpin (Robert Davi, who appeared in Silver’s Action Jackson and Die Hard).
The previous Bond picture The Living Daylights–which marked Dalton’s 007 debut–seemed typical 007: nifty gadgets, lovely ladies, a slew of exotic locales, and an incredible assortment of stunts. This time we see a Bond unlike prior Bonds (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, or Roger Moore). In the course of the film’s 133 minute running time we get to glimpse but a few locales. While the primary female (Carey Lowell), formerly in the army and CIA, is attractive she doesn’t seem credible as a veteran operative accustomed to working in hostile territories.
Helmed by John Glen, who has directed the Bond films since 1981s For Your Eyes Only, this installment has no moments of laughter or levity in any way whatsoever. For the first time in his career 007 is on his own. No mission this time. This time the matter is a personal one.
En route to the wedding of longtime friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison, who makes a return to the role he first portrayed in 1973s Live and Let Die), he and Bond stop to capture drug lord Franz Sanchez (Davi) as the film opens. The opening sequence offers a chance for us to witness an amazing display of jaw-slackening stunts.
Unlike prior Bond tales, Felix Leiter plays a pivotal role in the story. Actually what happens to him is taken from the Fleming novel Live and Let Die. Though Hedison is about two decades older than Dalton, they seem to have some rapport. This hasn’t really been apparent with Leiter’s other appearances, or any other Leiter–save Jack Lord and Hedison–for that matter. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much here. Hedison seems little more than an extended cameo, a pity.
Bond’s love interest Pam Bouvier could have been more interesting but she isn’t. While she makes for a far more better 007 ally than Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill, Lowell is not a great beauty like Dr. No’‘s Ursula Andress or Live and Let Die‘s Jane Seymour. Lowell makes Britt Ekland, who played Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun) look like Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lowell looks as if she’d be more at home as a comely coed in an Animal House type of film. Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto), Sanchez’s mistress, exudes a stronger presence than Pam Bouvier. Despite being only 22, Soto exudes an exotic sensuality that makes her seem more mature. Even if she is merely little more than an ornament.
As Sanchez, Davi is quite a convincing foe. His presence makes for perhaps one of the few times in the series that Bond has faced an opponent who possesses a very real threat to him. Davi brings a suave and menacing charm to the role and is likable in a perverted way. His Sanchez is a villain to be feared. We know it. Davi knows it.
While the film is far from perfect, it is far from the typical Bond films, particularly those of recent years. But in an era of Indiana Jones and high body count, testosterone-laden, jingoistic protagonists often essayed by Sylvester and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dalton shows that when it comes to action, no one does it quite like 007.