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"Casino Royale" 

The new Bond earns his license to kill


Since the James Bond movies virtually constitute a genre all their own, their typical action, characters, scenes, and sequences now solidify into something like conventions, repeated and predictable devices that identify and define the film. All those settings, chases, explosions, gadgets, tag lines, and so forth occur so often that any wan veteran of the balconies can recognize them immediately and, more important, compare them with their appearance in previous films. Bondologists can study the developments in weaponry, the changes in automobiles, the newest fantastic mechanisms, even such small matters as the brand of timepiece, and all the other product placements that often turn the movies into long, elaborate displays of consumerism at its most opulent and glittery.

Of course, the most important component of those movies is the protagonist himself, the deadly, debonair agent of British Intelligence, possessor of the rare double-0 number, the oddly prestigious license to kill. The sixth James Bond in the second film version of the first Ian Fleming novel (got that?), Casino Royale, Daniel Craig displays many of the necessary qualifications for the role. Though lacking the suave grace of Roger Moore or the chiseled good looks of Pierce Brosnan, Craig possesses some of the brawny virility of Sean Connery, for many the only true Bond; in fact, contrasting with the generally supercilious manner of some of his predecessors, he rather resembles a well-dressed thug.

The role really only requires that the actor look good with his shirt off and equally good in a tuxedo, and Craig qualifies in both departments. He also manages the usual seduction of a couple of beautiful women, one of whom, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), even causes the allegedly cold, cruel killer to soften, so that he falls disastrously in love. In keeping with the best Bond traditions, that romantic squishiness proves only temporary, allowing the hero to continue his sexual exploits in what looks to be an endless series.

Roughly following the basic plot of the novel, which was published in 1953, Casino Royale updates a number of elements both from that source and the series itself. After establishing his license to kill in a gritty black and white prelude, the movie provides Bond with a properly elegant setting for his major task --- winning $150 million from an international gangster named Le Chiffre (MadsMikkelsen) at the tables in a swanky casino in Montenegro. Unlike the novel's baccarat, the game they play is that dull, unimaginative business that inundates the television channels, a version of poker called Hold 'Em, presumably chosen for its relevance to a contemporary audience.

This Bond, refreshingly, employs none of those silly science-fiction devices of the past, but relies mostly on the recognizable technology of today, particularly computers and cell phones. The car he drives boasts none of the factory-installed options, like hidden machine guns, rocket launchers, ejection seats, invisibility, or aeronautical capability, but simply looks terrific and goes very fast. Perhaps in keeping with the inclination toward greater authenticity, the movie exhibits a cruder and more visceral level of violence, with plenty of blood, a classically sadomasochistic torture scene, and a long trail of corpses that stretches over three continents.

Aside from its central sequences in Montenegro, as in the past, Casino Royale depends heavily for its movement on a number of hot pursuits through unusual locations, which display the usual spectacular stunt work and gaudy pyrotechnics. Those chase sequences usually culminate in explosions and a pile of dead bodies, minus the allegedly clever quips of the past, and considerable damage to Bond's face and attire.

Despite all the excitement, the elegant clothes, the sumptuous interiors, the gorgeous locations, the picture grows tiresome and repetitive after its first two hours, with passages of dull dialogue and scenes that stretch out endlessly. The director apparently couldn't figure out either how to compress the action into a controllable length or how to tie up the various strings of plot, which means the movie keeps ending, then starting up all over again. Casino Royale may be better than many Bonds, but it's scarcely blue chip.

Casino Royale (PG-13), directed by Martin Campbell, is now playing at Culver Ridge 16, Pittsford, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, and Eastview 13.

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