Essential: LICENCE TO KILL (1989)
Timothy Dalton is back for his second and final adventure as James Bond. He seems more comfortable in the role, though he is still playing the character in a slightly detached manner. Dalton seems to understand the connection Bond has with an American friend named Felix (David Hedison) and Felix’s young bride (Priscilla Barnes). This is apparent when Felix’s bride is murdered shortly after she and Felix are wed. It becomes personal for Bond, since he also lost his wife not long after he was married.
The scene where Bond discovers Felix’s dead wife is a bit graphic. And so is the moment where the killers, rich creeps in the south Florida drug trade, take Felix to a warehouse and toss him into some water with a ferocious shark. Felix doesn’t die, though I didn’t quite understand why they spared him and not his wife. Later Felix is returned to his home where Bond finds him and takes him to the hospital. While Felix recuperates after the near fatal shark bite, it’s up to Bond to track down the men responsible.
While much of the film’s early action takes place in Florida, the next segment occurs in a fictional Central American country (based on Manuel Noriega’s Panama). The cold war is over, so now Bond is focused on a large scale drug war. In many ways this film plays like an extended episode of Miami Vice, the TV crime drama that was very popular in the late-80s and often focused on the drug trade.
A word or two about the villains. Robert Davi plays the pockmarked Latin American drug lord Sanchez; and he is in league with two unsavory henchmen. One of them is Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), who operates a marine research center that helps smuggle cocaine into the country. And the other bad guy is Dario, a young assistant played by Benicio del Toro before he became a bonafide movie star. There is a great deal of homoerotic tension between Sanchez and Dario that Davi seems to deliberately add to the scenes by brushing his hand across del Torro’s face when they’re together on camera, as well as all those longing (and apparently meaningful) stares.
There’s a key scene where Sanchez says loyalty is more important than money; and when Bond tries to infiltrate the Sanchez organization later on, Bond repeats the loyalty oath, which impresses Sanchez. Sanchez knows more money can always be made, but he wants real loyalty and companionship from his male partners in crime.
Another pseudo-villain in the story is televangelist Joe Butcher played by Wayne Newton. Newton seems like an odd choice, but apparently he enjoyed the Bond films so much he asked the producers if he could do a cameo. In a way it’s an extended cameo, since there are several scenes with Newton asking for donations to his “church,” which is really a cover for more dope smuggling. And there’s a sequence which occurs at Butcher’s meditation institute (a euphemism if ever there was one) that prominently features Newton, whom I found to be quite charming in a non-sequitur sort of way.
Much of the picture’s second act concerns Bond trying to set Krest against Sanchez. There’s a particularly gruesome death scene where Sanchez decides Krest has been “unfaithful” and has to be eliminated. Krest’s blood gets all over a pile of money– symbolism for blood money (literally)– and Sanchez’s answer when asked about how to clean the cash is to launder it. While working to get Krest out of the way, Bond receives help from his old pal Q (Desmond Llewelyn) who poses as a chauffeur and supplies necessary gadgets to foil the villains. Also, Bond is aided by two women with whom he naturally falls in love.
As in the previous Dalton picture, Bond’s bed hopping has been significantly curtailed. The two girlfriends he has in this story are depicted as strong romantic possibilities in a rather impossible triangle. One of them is a chick that has been having a relationship with Sanchez; she’s portrayed by Talisa Soto; and the other is the main Bond girl, Carey Lowell as CIA informant Pam Bouvier. There’s an interesting line where Pam joins up with Bond in Latin America, and she has to pose as 007’s assistant. She asks why he can’t pose as her assistant, and he says women are not that strong or powerful south of the U.S. border. Not sure whether that’s true, or if any feminists in 1989 bought it.
Overall this is a fast-moving, suspense-filled entry. It might seem formulaic in spots, but there are pleasant moments of creativity. The tanker chase sequence at the end is truly spectacular and fun to watch. Incidentally, the producers included the Surgeon General’s warning in the closing credits, almost apologizing for the use of tobacco in the story. However, they did not apologize for cutting Felix’s honeymoon short. And they did not apologize for putting all those trucks on the road. If they had, their licence to thrill might have been revoked.
LICENCE TO KILL is directed by John Glen and can be streamed on Dailymotion.