Off-Bond: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) Film Review

By Anthony Moretta

Despite some of the positive reviews afforded the flick at the time of its release, including those by Janet Maslin and Roger Ebert, it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty bad. Now, questions of intent and perception come into play. Was this meant as a ‘serious’ James Bond entry? Or is it a calculated send-up, fully aware of the prior films?

Winding down some of the carnival farces that plagued Roger Moore’s run (most notably, Moonraker [1979]), producer Jack Schwartzman, director Irvin Kershner, and story-writer Kevin McClory (who won a rights battle over the use of Ian Fleming's 1961 novel "Thunderball") saw an opportunity to re-introduce the best portrayed Bond – Sean Connery. Aged and hardened, Connery looks surprisingly refreshed after a twelve-year break, and not like the tired mope in Diamonds are Forever (1971) before he swore it off for good. Interestingly, Connery is three years younger than Moore, so it’s totally palatable that even in his fifties, Connery could outlast the gentleman secret agent. And let’s be honest, by the time we got to A View to a Kill (1985), the then 58-year old Moore looked every bit his age and then some. New blood was already needed.

I don’t think there was any real effort or reasonable expectation that Connery would swipe the role back on a long-term basis. Never Say Never Again – although a remake of "Thunderball" – is technically not part of the Bond movie canon. It’s an unofficial one-off. A middle-finger to the soft and super-stupid Moore pics (except for For Your Eyes Only [1981], which is a rough and tumble throwback and damn good), but in no way escaping '80s over-the-top excess.

Familiarity with the basic plot is in order - stolen nuclear warheads held for ransom by SPECTRE, headed by Enrst Stavro Blofeld (Max Von Sydow), protected by its operatives Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) and Emilio Largo (Klaus Maria Brandaeur). And in ridiculous fashion, Bond's got a secret suitcase of fancy foods, including caviar and foie gras, while taking a leave of absence to cleanse his body at some English health resort, where he just happens upon Blush and her S&M sidekick, U.S. Pilot Jack Petachi (Gavin O'Herlihy). Low and behold, the action begins. Bond, with help from CIA agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey), tracks it all down, eventually hooking up with Largo's lover and Jack's sister, Domino (Kim Basinger).

In these sorts, plots are pointless. It's always going to be worldly danger, paradoxical schemes, uncovered conspiracies, or some crazy shit. The keys in the face of full-on foolery are characters played straight by talented performers and action used to progress the story. Some of the better Bond flicks achieve this (the best of which continues to be From Russia With Love [1963] and Casino Royale [2006]), but most don't. The makers here weren't handcuffed by formula and pedigree. They enjoyed a freedom to do without consequence except for the box-office (and they made a lot of money, too). In the middle of Moore's extravagantly expensive and perky outings, Never Say Never Again had a chance to trim the fat and keep it real with the original 007, letting the British spy discard villains and ladies with equal demeanor. But, they didn't. Nope. Bond is playful and plush. And there are personal flying machines (that look too complicated and big to perform the simple functions shown on screen) and deadly urine (no, really). There's Edward Fox playing the most prissy and prudish and perfunctory M (Bond’s boss), and an underground cave sequence that is so awfully choreographed, with the fakest set design, that you have to believe it was done badly on purpose. There is a notable chase scene with Bond on bike and the way he disposes of Blush is funny and fitting (blown to bits, leaving only her smoking high heels), but the movie's altogether messy and meatless.

Sure, Basinger is fuck-all pretty, but frighteningly overmatched by Connery’s screen presence, and Rowan Atkinson is decent in comic relief as Bond's guide, Nigel Small-Fawcett. Brandaeur is wasted and Sydow is just sad. I mean, the man was Jesus and the Exorcist, but plays Blofeld like a cartoony Catholic school principal. The absolute worst is Carerra, a model turned actress who apparently was never coached in the art of realizing you can’t fucking act! Claudine Auger and Honor Blackman she is not.

I still feel Timothy Dalton was the best actor to play Bond, but Connery played him best. Daniel Craig's got a shot. Let's see.

Anthony Moretta is from Brooklyn, NY and writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet. His writing has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online and is featured in the comics anthology, Unfashioned Creatures. His independent film project, Travels, is currently in post-production and he's also developing an original comic book series.