Cast: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max Von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie
Casey, Edward Fox, Alec McCowen, Pamela Salem, Rowan Atkinson
Director: Irvin Kershner
Producer: Jack Schwartzman
Screenplay: Lorenzo Semple Jr. based on the original story by Kevin McClory, Jack Wittingham, and Ian Fleming
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Music: Michel Legrand
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
In 1971, following the release of Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery announced that he would "never again" play the role of James Bond. As a result, the producers brought in Roger Moore, and the series continued. 12 years later, in 1983, Connery reneged on his anti-007 vow and once again slipped into the role that had earned him worldwide fame (the reputed $5 million paycheck probably had something to do with his decision). Fans of the real James Bond exulted -- at least until they saw the movie.
Kevin McClory, the producer and co-writer of Thunderball, won a legal battle to make his own Bond movie. The only stipulation was that it had to be based on the characters and situations of the original Thunderball. So, using Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Three Days of the Condor) as his screenwriter, McClory set about updating the story. The result, which has a hokey, jokey feel, is possibly the worst-written Bond script of all (barring the satirical mess called Casino Royale). However, McClory did score a major coup by getting Connery on board for the production.
Unfortunately, Never Say Never Again is a poor excuse for the veteran actor's return. The humor is over-the-top, the direction is pedestrian, and the storyline drags. Were it not for the simple pleasure of seeing Connery playing 007 one more time, this film would have been nearly unwatchable. All things considered, it's not a very good movie, but at least Connery's charisma salvages parts of it.
While the skeleton of Never Say Never Again resembles that of Thunderball -- SPECTRE steals two nuclear missiles and blackmails the world -- many of the details are different. In fact, those who haven't seen the 1965 film recently might not even recognize the connection. Certain character names remain the same, but personalities have changed. The main villain, Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), for example, is far more cultured this time around, and his mistress, Domino (Kim Basinger), is astonishingly naive. Even Bond has changed subtly -- given Connery's age, he's better at delivering puns than punches.
The hallmarks of every Bond film are the big, often-absurd action sequences. Thunderball has several, including a spectacular (if overlong) underwater climax. Never Say Never Again can boast only one -- a wild car chase with Bond on a Q-designed motorbike -- and that's choreographed without flair. With the exception of a few isolated incidents here and there, like the silly fight that demolishes a health clinic, this film fails to generate much excitement. And the absence of the John Barry/Monty Norman "James Bond Theme" leaves a musical hole that Michel Legrand's feeble score cannot plug.
The acting is variable. Brandauer is effective as Largo and Max Von Sydow may be the best Blofeld of all. Barbara Carrera is suitably sexy as the predatory Fatima. Kim Basinger is a singular embarrassment, not exhibiting the slightest wisp of acting talent. The usual "London group" of M (Edward Fox), Q (Alec McCowen), and Moneypenny (Pamela Salem) seem like impostors. It's especially odd seeing someone other than Desmond Llewelyn tinkering with gadgets.
There was a great deal of hype in 1983 about the "dueling" Bonds -- Roger Moore's Octopussy versus Sean Connery's Never Say Never Again. Ultimately, both entries were duds, with Never Say Never Again offering slightly better entertainment based solely on Connery's presence. Nevertheless, it's a major disappointment that, having lured back the original 007, the film makers couldn't offer him something better than this drawn-out, hackneyed story.
© 1996 James Berardinelli