Thursday, November 27, 2014

Live and Let Die

  In Live and Let Die, the 8th official 007 movie, Roger Moore assumes the role of the iconic British secret service agent and comes out swinging, so to speak. There's no mistaking it, Roger Moore is James Bond. He fits the suits, throws a mean punch, and can dole out Bond-isms with the best of them. He's a worthy successor to Sean Connery, and what's even better is that he's clearly not trying to play Connery, he's playing Bond... James Bond. His own take on 007. Less of a brawler, more of a lover- Moore seems completely content relying on his 'bedside manner' and quick thinking to get him out of situations instead of a right hook and a Walther PPK. Even his choice of drink has been switched up. Yet make no mistake, this is still the James Bond we know and love. Just a different shade of the same character. This movie is pure escapist fantasy, just shy of the more serious tone of entries like OHMSS and From Russia With Love, it lands itself somewhere between Dr.No and Thunderball.

  The unfortunate downside is that the tone of the movie is far more than a stone's throw from what we're used to in Bond. It's more in line with it's immediate predecessor, Diamonds are Forever. Simple and lighthearted, but even moreso without Connery's trademark wit and grit. Despite this, there's something about Live and Let Die that makes it so much more fun. It could be the colorful villains, or the settings, but whatever it is... it makes Live and Let Die a surefire guilty pleasure. It seems to be just a series of situations Bond finds himself in, each outdoing the last in sheer spectacle or even just good ol' fashioned danger. It's infectiously fun. It takes a page from the quicker paced Bond outings and makes sure that the story is always moving forward.

  Whether Bond is getting into fistfights, car chases, or having to escape from a crocodile infested lake... Moore handles it all with grace and a few well-timed quips. He's impervious. Even in the face of certain death, he's rarely concerned enough to do more than raise an eyebrow. You can see the gears turning in there as he's working out how to escape. One thing he doesn't seem to have trouble escaping from though, is Sean Connery's shadow. He handles himself like he's been playing the role just as long. The weakest link might be some of the supporting actors, ranging from flat out bad to borderline parodic. In the bad category, we have a rather obnoxious redneck sheriff, and then we have Gloria Hendry as Bond girl Rosie. (notable as the first 'African American' woman Bond puts the moves on.) I have no qualms with Bond bedding women of any ethnicity, the only problem here is that Hendry is annoying, melodramatic, and a drag. Thankfully she's not in the movie long.

  I do suppose 'bad' is subjective in a movie like this though. It has voodoo, clairvoyance, pimps, "pimpmobiles", sharks, snakes, rednecks and fake afros. Somehow the movie makes it all work. Investigating the death of three fellow agents Bond goes from Harlem to Louisiana, and a hostile Caribbean island, blowing things up and running into traitors all along the way. He discovers that a prime minister, Dr.Kananga is plotting to flood the streets of the United States with $1 billion dollars of free heroin, not only cornering the market, putting the competition out of business, but also creating a booming customer base. Bond goes through everything imaginable to stop him. Ending in a trademark showdown in Kananga's secret underground island lair. Which, while fun and cool, just comes off as cliche at this point. Given the glaring absence of the international criminal organization and franchise mainstay, SPECTRE, from this movie, you wonder just how many independent criminal masterminds have underground metal-walled fortresses like this.

  Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Paul McCartney's fantastic and eponymous title song. The tune is catchy and gets stuck in your head. It suits the movie perfectly in it's own weird way and ends up not only being a damn good song in it's own right, but one of the most memorable Bond themes to date. In fact, all the music for the movie is great. It's hard to miss, and speaking of hard to miss... Jane Seymour plays Bond's other squeeze in the movie. She's the clairvoyant tarot card reader for Bond's enemy Dr.Kananga. It's an odd little fiasco, and Seymour is not all that memorable in the role, but she doesn't do a bad job either. It just wasn't written that memorably. Which is a shame because despite the age gap, her and Moore had good chemistry. Or so it seemed, whenever she wasn't stressing out and panicking as a damsel with the threat of death looming over her is likely to do.

  Overall, Live and Let Die is fun for all the same reasons it's hard to take it seriously. It's silly... but I think that's okay. For now. It's hard not to have fun watching Kananga's henchmen chase, torment, and try to kill Bond. Amongst which are the flamboyant and un-killable voodoo priest Baron Samedi, the fat, raspy and quiet 'Whisper', and finally the giggly, metal armed thug, Tee Hee. With such a colorful cadre of villains, Bond had his work cut out for him. By way of boat chases, a strictly land based airplane chase, a bus chase, and a skirmish in a speeding car, Bond finally saves the day. As per usual. Far be it from him to let the credits roll without bedding the girl one more time though. Attaboy James, way to dig into cliche.

  Nevertheless, I should point out that Roger Moore makes great use of his sarcastic wit. He coins it and makes it his thing, much like Connery's did with his sharp and biting one-liners. He inhabits the role well and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to watching the rest of Moore's films, even if Live and Let Die isn't anywhere near one of the best. A word to the wise however, it's a better movie if you view it as Moore's introductory outing, instead of a sequel to the previous films. Not even the staunchest critics can deny that this one has some great thrilling action sequences. An open mind and a big bowl of popcorn go a long way towards making this one infinitely more watchable. It's a middle of the road 007 flick, but a strangely enjoyable one at that, and not a bad way to kill a couple hours.

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