Monday, January 5, 2015

Film Review: LICENCE TO KILL (1989, John Glen)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 133 minutes.
Tag-line: "His bad side is a dangerous place to be."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Timothy Dalton (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, HOT FUZZ), Carey Lowell (DOWN TWISTED, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE), Robert Davi (DIE HARD, THE GOONIES), Talisa Soto (Kitana in MORTAL KOMBAT and MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION), Anthony Zerbe (THE DEAD ZONE, STEEL DAWN), Frank McRae (LAST ACTION HERO, 48 HRS.), Wayne Newton (TALES FROM THE CRYPT), Benicio Del Toro (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS), Everett McGill (TWIN PEAKS, SILVER BULLET, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS), Desmond Llewelyn ('Q' from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE through THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, from 1963 to 1999), Grand L. Bush (LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD).  Music by Michael Kamen (LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD).
Best One-liner:  "God, what a terrible waste... of money."

LICENCE TO KILL might be the meanest of all the Bond films, feeling at times more like a DEATH WISH sequel or a spin-off of SCARFACE.  It's by no means a top-tier James Bond film, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The plot is thus: after his longtime CIA buddy Felix Leiter becomes mutilated and widower'ed on his honeymoon, Bond goes rogue, has his license to kill revoked, and hunts down the drug lord (classic 80s character actor villain Robert Davi) responsible.  As I said, it's quite mean-spirited, and is chock full of severed limbs, non-consensual BDSM, exploding heads, torture, and all sorts of other stuff you wouldn't expect in a Bond film.  There was a gung ho wave of anti-drug paramilitary-ism in the late 80s and early 90s with so many franchises turning in a cartel-related installment:  DEATH WISH gave us DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN, DIRTY HARRY gave us THE DEAD POOL, DELTA FORCE gave us DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLUMBIAN CONNECTION, the Jack Ryan series gave us CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, and the James Bond series gave us LICENCE TO KILL.  I could go on.

Now, what about those beloved minutiae– the strange little happenings and unexpected appearances that make 80s action movies so enjoyable for me?   Well, here are my top nine such moments in LICENCE TO KILL:

#9.  Ninjas fly down from the rafters and start shooting nets out of their sleeves like Spiderman slings web.



No, this isn't a Cannon Film, and no, they don't appear in any other scene.

#8.  Q's finest gadget by far in this film (compare to his last great offering, "The Ghetto Blaster" in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS) is a Polaroid camera that conceals a death-ray laser-beam.

PEW!

#7.  This random guy, whose explanation for a cartel torture-by-shark is to blame it on cartel torture-by-chainsaw.  He begins speculating to Timothy Dalton and Frank McRae about how much Columbians use chainsaws.

Then he says that they use them even more than people from Oregon.

What?  How is that a valid comparison?  Is it a logging industry reference?  Columbia and Oregon both possess a great deal of forest, though Columbia has four times the square milage of Oregon.  And if you were to pick a U.S. state that people associate with chainsaws, it'd probably be Texas.  Oh, nevermind– I get it.  It must be a handcrafted-artisanal-chainsaw-sculpture reference.

#6.  Wayne Newton as a preening televangelist cult leader.

He pulls it off wonderfully; it's no sort of stretch whatsoever.

#5.  Evil Everett McGill.

While I love "Good Everett McGill," as best depicted in "Big Ed" from TWIN PEAKS, I must say that I have a soft spot for "Evil Everett McGill," particularly as seen in SILVER BULLET and THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. Here, we get the Evil variety, and while he only has about five minutes of screen time before he is voraciously eaten by sharks, it's a fine showing.


#4.  Guest-directed by Lucio Fulci?  A man has maggots thrown in his face,

 and Bond nearly meets some eye trauma at the business end of a wall-mounted swordfish.


You will note that I just basically described every Lucio Fulci film.

#3.  Even in 1989, the "80s Rule of Pools" is still in effect.  I've written about this elsewhere, but the idea is that if A., a swimming pool exists, then B., someone fully clothed must be pushed into it, arms flailing.

It's simply the 80s Rule of Pools, Mr. Bond.

#2.  Benicio Del Toro.  Fresh off his first film appearance as "Duke the Dog-Faced Boy" in BIG-TOP PEE WEE, Del Toro really sinks his teeth into "Dario," a lesser cartel henchman.

For whatever reason, I think he's wearing the same black blazer and red shirt he wears six years later in THE USUAL SUSPECTS:

though by 1995, he no longer looks as much like a member of Menudo, which is a shame in its own right.

#1.  Robert Davi (and his pet Iguana).
 
I don't have much to add here, other than to point out the Iguana is wearing a diamond choker.  Davi acts throughout as if he's in a hard-R-rated drug war flick and not a mass-market James Bond movie, and his frightening presence comprises much of what makes this film so memorable.  It's probably also why this film created the largest gap (it would be six years until Bond returned in GOLDENEYE) in the Bond franchise since its inception!

–Sean Gill

6 comments:

Cannon said...

Yeah. I've said elsewhere, this is basically the Lethal Weapon of Bonds. But then, the franchise has always appropriated the times. Consider how the Roger Moore era ranged from Blaxploitation to going full-retard Star Wars, or how the Brosnans were so eager to make internet hacking feel "new" and "exciting".

But I love Licence to Kill specifically for its explicit sinister nature and for unleashing Bond in all-bets-off revenge mode long before the Craig films made it fashionable.

Other pluses for me:

Pre-Mortal Kombat appearances by Talisa Soto and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

Carey Lowell as the first-and-only Robert Palmer backup Bond girl.

Robert Davi's elaborate, 'Stairway to Heaven' style, Acapulco palace villa, where you can easily imagine an undercover Crockett and Tubbs dining one overlook below.

And, yes, Del Toro:

"What have you done with my wife?!"

"Don't worry. We gave her a nice honeymooooohnnn!"


The movie's also got some kickass action sequences. That tanker chase is a marvel of stunt-work and pyrotechnics, and Bond's "Lighter's lighter" pun kill.

And finally, I have a soft spot for the way Patti LaBelle's 'If You Ask Me To' plays over the aforementioned swimming pool closing scene. There is something so distinctly "1989" about that moment: pool-lit romance to the sounds of decade's end, easy listening R&B—very VH1esque.

It was like a cologne commercial from the same era.

Sean Gill said...

Cannon,

Very well said, and some magnificent observations! Indeed it does occupy that magical "1989" headspace á la the cologne commercials of the era. And I have to imagine, that if Crockett and Tubbs are dining undercover at Davi's pleasure palace, then his bejeweled iguana might just have to face off against Crockett's pet alligator in some kind of trashy Miami reptile kumite.

John Guedes said...

Glad to see this one finally made it to the blog, for me it holds a special place because I can remember as a kid this was one of those movies that was great to accompany G.I. Joe play on the carpet in front of the tv. The madcap action sequences and overall sense of adventure and danger made it perfect for inspiring mini-battles amongst my Joes. Another movie that was great for the same purpose was REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS.

J.D. Lafrance said...

I do have a soft spot for this movie and in retrospect it anticipates the harder-edged Daniel Craig movies by more than a few years!

Love Robert Davi in this one - he reminds me of Michael Ironside in that he fully commits in every role he does and isn't afraid to have fun with it and man, is he bad man in LICENCE TO KILL. It is one of the few times I felt that Bond was in actual danger.

Carey Lowell never looked finer than in this movie and she ranks right up there in the pantheon of Bond girls for me. There's just something about her tomboyish, no-nonsense vibe yet with a sexy-as-hell look.

Sean Gill said...

John,

I did not have the pleasure of seeing this as a child, though I could see how it would naturally lend itself to a G.I. Joe extravaganza. Love REMO WILLIAMS as well– the Statue of Liberty scenario was quite inspirational to my childhood play!

J.D.,

'Tis a pity Ironside never played a Bond baddie, but at least we've got Davi! Carey Lowell is indeed a solid Bond girl; I intend eventually to review the Cannon/Pyun films she starred in, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE and DOWN TWISTED.

J.D. Lafrance said...

Nice! I haven't seen DANGEROUSLY CLOSE in ages! I checked it out after seeing her LICENCE TO KILL.