LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Drug Content

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Directed by: John Glen

Written by: Michael G. Wilson & Richard Maibaum

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae & Benicio Del Toro

The sixteenth film in the 007 cannon and the fifth in my eleven review retrospective, LICENCE TO KILL was described to me as a darker, grittier Bond. I can’t deny that this film is more violent than its predecessors and has a particularly grim storyline, but I can say that the movie seems to forget the sense of big fun entertainment and welcomed pieces of humor. I never thought I could dislike a Bond movie more than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (with the possible exception of MOONRAKER), but LICENCE TO KILL is the worst Bond movie that I’ve sat through thus far. Say what you will about Roger Moore (who was bad in GOLDEN GUN and solid in SPY WHO LOVED ME), but he’s ten times more charismatic and enjoyable to watch than Timothy Dalton’s 007. The sad part is I love Dalton in other films, but James Bond he is not. LICENCE TO KILL takes what was once charming entertainment and turns it into something ugly, dull and depressing.

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James Bond has been assigned to help the DEA take down vicious drug lord Franz Sanchez. Their assignment seems to be a sterling success, but Sanchez quickly bribes his way out of captivity. In retaliation for his capture, Sanchez feeds one of 007’s colleagues to a shark and rapes said colleague’s wife. This results in 007 flying off the deep end with a vendetta to take down Sanchez. MI6 sees this newly enraged Bond as a possible risk for their organization and Bond goes rogue as a result. So rogue 007 is chasing down a violent drug dealer with the help of a typically beautiful Bond girl and that’s about the entire plot to this film right there.

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While there are plenty of problems to be addressed in the script itself, I’m going to go over the cast first. I said it before, but Dalton just isn’t Bond. Aside from a couple of half-assed one-liners, this isn’t the secret agent that we all came to know and love through countless wild adventures. Instead, Bond has now been transformed into a brooding anti-hero of sorts and it doesn’t mesh well with the series or work as a standalone. Other Bond characters have brief cameos (Q, M, Moneypenny) as if to remind us that this is still a Bond movie, but their appearances are inconsequential. The Bond girl is played by Carey Lowell and I’d say her character name but that detail doesn’t really matter since all she does is pop up when its convenient for the plot. Even her little attempts at humor fall flat, though she’s appropriately gorgeous (much like the many other Bond girls of the series). The worst performance comes in the villain. This bland cartel is a boring baddie. I didn’t find him threatening or menacing even if he does have a constant sneer on his face. I think the only thing that really qualifies him as a Bond villain is that he has a pet shark and a case of exotic maggots. Honestly, I would have preferred the young Benicio Del Toro’s henchman (who pops up twice) as the main villain.

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The plot of LICENCE doesn’t feel like a Bond adventure. There are no ridiculous world-ending stakes and only a couple of quality action scenes. The story feels like a script that might have been penned for Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme and 007 was thrown in as an afterthought. The biggest cliché is that the movie is driven forward by the death of Bond’s partner/friend. This is the same overused plot point from countless 80’s cop films. It just feels like a cheap excuse for a story to progress forward. Also, the absent sense of humor sours the mix as well. While most of the Bond films I’ve seen have been intense, action-packed and fun, LICENCE TO KILL focuses more on being overtly violent and unpleasant. The end result is that it lacks the Bond essence that makes this series so enjoyable to begin with. That being said, there’s one solid chase scene near the end involving a couple of semi-trucks that was well done and stands out as the only highlight of the film.

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LICENCE TO KILL may be in cannon with the rest of the 007 franchise, but I really wouldn’t call this a true James Bond film. If you took 007 out of the story, this would be yet another one of those generic 80’s action movies that you catch on late-night cable. One great action sequence aside, this film is downright boring and dull. I just couldn’t get invested in it, especially when clichés were running rampant. Dalton’s mediocre performance as Bond didn’t help anything either. At the very least, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was watchable in a cinematic trainwreck sort of way (with third nipples, an over-the-top comedic Sheriff, and Christopher Lee delivering the only good performance of that film). LICENCE TO KILL is outright dull and makes me wish never to watch another of Dalton’s 007 films.

Grade: D

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