Licence to Kill (1989)

Licence to Kill (1989) – Timothy Dalton is an actor who I generally rather enjoy, particularly his wonderfully wicked turn in Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. He is, of course, most famous for playing everyone’s favorite superspy James Bond. He only did it twice, in The Living Daylights and this film. He was actually the second choice to take over the role from Roger Moore but the first choice, Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, was busy with his television program Remington Steele so Dalton got the part (very similar to the way Sean Connery got the part because Moore was busy doing The Saint). Either way, though he does have a loyal and vocal fan base, Dalton is not looked upon as one of the better Bonds. Granted I too think the best Bonds are (in order) Connery, Craig, and Brosnan but this is my first experience with Dalton as James Bond. So how do I feel he ranks in the pantheon of suave badass British superspies?

Bond is in Florida helping his CIA friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison, reprising the role from Live and Let Die) apprehend a South American drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). They succeed just in time to get Felix to his wedding. But Sanchez is down but not out. Soon he’s on the loose again and gets awful revenge on Felix and worse revenge on Felix’s new bride (Priscilla Barnes). Bond wants vengeance. However, M (Robert Brown) tells him that M:I-6 has no jurisdiction in South America and he needs to stay out of it. He license to kill* is revoked, but Bond goes rogue to chase down Sanchez and his associates (played by Anthony Zerbe, Everett McGill, Don Stroud, Anthony Starke, a young Benecio Del Toro, and for whatever reason Wayne Newton) with the help of sexy undercover CIA agent Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). Bond also tries to infiltrate the weak link in Sanchez’s organization, his unhappy girlfriend Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto). And of course Miss Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss), fearing for James’s well-being out on his own, sends help in the form of trusty gadget man Q (Desmond Llewelyn).

Now Licence to Kill does follow the standard pattern of a James Bond film (for the most part), but it also follows in another less distinguished but equally proud tradition: the 80s action movie. Indeed it does seem to blend the two together to produce something profoundly entertaining. The action scenes rate pretty highly for a pre-Brosnan Bond flick. As soon as Gladys Knight’s title song concludes, beautiful Bond babes and baleful bad guys abound. (I guess Carey Lowell was on Law & Order for a while but why have I not seen Talisa Soto in more stuff?) Wayne Newton’s character is clearly making fun of the then-recently-disgraced pastor Jim Baker, but what should date the movie horribly just adds a light touch of comic relief (and it’s not like disgraced pastors haven’t popped up in the intervening years). Italian American Robert Davi plays Hispanic decently enough, except he always pronounced Lupe as “loopy,” which bugs the hell out of me. Either way, he brings the right combination of international sophistication, ruthless ambition, and unrestrained menace that a good Bond villain should have. As for Dalton, I like him. He doesn’t supplant any of my top three Bonds, but he’s a solid fourth for me (still have never seen the Lazenby one, and while I like the sly humor of Roger Moore all right he’s never been my favorite). I look forward to checking out The Living Daylights sometime.

*I do not know why the title of the movie spells license as “licence.” It must be one of those English alternate spellings like “colour” or “centre.”

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