One summer of ’89 joint that seems older than most of the others is Timothy Dalton 007 movie #2 of 2, LICENCE TO KILL. It’s got a definite ’80s action influence in that James Bond is supposed to turn in his proverbial badge and actual gun (he keeps the gun though) and goes rogue to get revenge on a Colombian drug lord named Sanchez (Robert Davi, CITY HEAT, RAW DEAL, ACTION JACKSON, DIE HARD), who has invented a novel way to smuggle cocaine (mixed with gasoline). And the theme by Gladys Knight and end credits song by Patti Labelle could probly slip onto a BEVERLY HILLS COP soundtrack without causing a scene. It’s also pretty violent, and was seen as a darker interpretation of Bond, which to some was upsetting and to some others was more in keeping with the books by Ian Fleming. But in most ways it’s old timey James Bond shit with elaborate stunt sequences, gadgets that make computery sounds (what good did it do him to disguise the explosives as toothpaste and cigarettes, by the way?) and multiple gorgeous women who throw themselves at Bond for no reason.
It was filmed under the title LICENCE REVOKED, then they decided Americans wouldn’t understand that it wasn’t talking about his driver’s license. (Tell that to the scene in the previous week’s LETHAL WEAPON 2 where the bad guy says “Diplomatic immunity!” and Murtaugh yells “It’s just been revoked!”) The original title accurately describes this little side adventure that happens when Bond uses his status as a “temporarily unemployed” “problem eliminator” to get revenge on behalf of Felix Leiter’s leg.
You see, it opens with Felix (David Hedison, returning from LIVE AND LET DIE) and Bond (Dalton, whose BRENDA STARR had just opened in May) in a limo headed to Felix’s wedding when they get waved down (or up, actually) by two DEA agents in a Coast Guard helicopter who want Felix’s help real quick busting this Sanchez guy. Bond doesn’t want to be the one to tell Della (Priscilla Barnes, TALONS OF THE EAGLE) that Felix is gonna be late, so he goes on the raid “as an observer,” and is the one who catches Sanchez’s escape plane on a hook. Then the groom and his best man parachute right to the church, impressively hanging onto their top hats.
Unfortunately the DEA chief Ed Killifer (Everett McGill, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY) aids in an underwater escape (sellout fee: $2 million), the gang murders Della, drops Felix into a shark tank and dumps him back off at home, alive but missing his left leg below the knee and part of an arm. Bond isn’t authorized to go after drug lords, even ones with shark tanks, but he refuses an assignment, makes a literary pun, and goes to off-the-books investigate with Felix’s buddy (Frank McRae, SHAFT IN AFRICA, HARD TIMES, WALKING TALL PART II, ROCKY II, 48 HRS., RED DAWN) who coincidentally runs a shark hunting charter boat and therefore has the now unfortunate nickname Sharky.
This one has two flavors of “Bond Girls” – Talisa Soto (who’d been in SPIKE OF BENSONHURST) plays Sanchez’s unhappy kept woman Lupe Lamora, who is introduced to us being whipped by a weird rubber sword(?) and to Bond when he finds her naked in bed, grabs her by the hair and puts a knife to her throat. She mostly lays around in luxurious bedrooms, and she’s like LETHAL WEAPON 2’s Rika in that she’s affiliated with the bad guy but immediately likes and helps the good guy. Carey Lowell (DANGEROUSLY CLOSE) plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-army pilot for Sanchez who’s actually an informant. Minutes after they meet at the Barrelhead Bar in Bimini there’s a big ROAD HOUSE style brawl (including pool stick used as a weapon) where Bond happens to beat up an uncredited Branscombe Richmond (the co-star of Renegade with Lorenzo Lamas).
You know Pam’s a good person to have around when her gun blasts a hole in the wall big enough to exit through and take off in a speed boat. She’s kinda more the style of LAST CRUSADE‘s Elsa – hot and capable – with the bonus of not working for any Nazis. She can be rugged but also wears dresses and gets alot of mileage from a small gun holstered to a garter.
Even for ’89 the treatment of women is ridiculous. I like these two, but they turn so stupid for Bond. Pam seems to rightfully scoff at him but suddenly starts making out with him during their boat escape (which gives him a boner that honks the boat horn). She quickly forgives him for rape-ily pinning her to a bed when he suspects her of treachery. Later, when she finds out he fucked Lupe (because she says so and cries “I love James so much!”), she gets sad and then is relieved to be his again when he jumps into a swimming pool for her. And it’s a totally wimpy swimming pool jump when compared to the one in LETHAL WEAPON 2.
Bond is always checking women out and smiling (like whenever Pam has to change clothes) but the weirdest one is when he first sees her leaving Felix’s office during the wedding reception, has no idea who she is but purposely steps into her personal bubble as she passes him.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn in number 11 out of 16 appearances as the character [the one from James Bond, not the one from Reddit]) cluelessly cockblocks Bond from Pam, but later tries to cover for him sleeping with Lupe, telling Pam that agents have to use “every means at their disposal to achieve their objectives.” (She’s right to say, “Bullshit!”)
Sanchez kinda has two main henchmen. Henchman A is Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe, THE OMEGA MAN, ROOSTER COGBURN, STEEL DAWN), a Mike Ditka lookin dude who runs the submarine place with the shark tank, which is actually a drug front. Bond sneaks in and finds bags of cocaine hidden in a maggot-filled drawer, which he subsequently stuffs a guard into.
Henchman B is Dario, played by a dreamy young Benicio Del Toro, whose only previous movie role was Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in BIG TOP PEE-WEE. Dressed kinda like EL MARIACHI, he chases Bond around and smolders. The one part that seems like it might be a Del Toro acting touch is that when he’s reunited with the boss after a while he hugs him.
(UPDATE: I’m told it was Davi’s idea. See the comments.)
Speaking of weird acting touches, what’s with this part where the cop incorrectly diagnoses the maiming of Felix and makes this joke about it:
“You can bet it was a chain saw. Colombians love to use them on informers. Hell, they sell more here than the state of Ore-gone.”
And then turns and smiles proudly:
This scene should end with seven guys pulling Bond off the prick. But Bond doesn’t react at all.
Like Jim Brown in SLAUGHTER (and probly James Bond in some James Bond movies, but I wouldn’t know), Bond goes undercover as a gambler, gets to know Sanchez and stays at his place, even using his real name. Q shows up at the hotel to illegally provide fancy devices (x-ray Polaroid with laser gun flash?). Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (right before L.A. TAKEDOWN) is another gambler who turns out to be Hong Kong narcotics, and for some reason has two ninjas (Stuart Quan [BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, ANGEL TOWN, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO] and Diane Hsu [SNAPDRAGON]) working for him. It was cool to see young, handsome C-HT playing a good guy, but right after we find out that’s the deal he’s biting down on a cyanide capsule.
This is a Bond movie so it needs even more colorful characters, which is about the only explanation for Wayne Newton (BEST OF THE BEST 2)’s small role as Professor Joe Butcher, who seems like a cross between himself, a televangelist and Jim Jones. He has a seduction bed in his temple, so he’s even worse than Bond. Sanchez can’t really compete with him for over-the-topness, despite having an iguana on his shoulder in one scene.
Sanchez’s power is the ability to pay people off – we hear at the beginning that he’s famous for million dollar bribes. So I like that Bond keeps showing total disrespect for bounty. Sharky seems maybe tempted to take Killifer’s suitcase full of money, but Bond uses it to kill the asshole. Killifer’s hanging over the shark pit, Bond throws the money at him and he tries to grab it, causing himself to fall. Death by greed (and shark).
By the way, that’s one interesting thing about Bond’s revenge: he doesn’t kill the actual perpetrator – the shark – but in fact rewards him with a whole other person to eat.
Bond also bashes a pilot with a cube of money, causing it to break open and pour out of the plane. The rest he steals just to frame Krest. Bond also fucks with Sanchez by stabbing giant bags of cocaine he’s smuggling in submersibles. There could be a whole spin-off movie about coke-fueled fish attacks.
I’m surprised the title isn’t aquatic themed. During the bar brawl a guy uses a giant decorative swordfish as a weapon. Bond kills a guy by throwing him in a tank with electric eels. He sneaks up on a submarine wearing a manta ray disguise. He waterskis behind a seaplane. He wedges a seashell shaped chair under a door knob when he fucks Lupe. He wakes up in Sanchez’s place being stared at by a new friend.
And then the rest of the movie is about him having to raise it as his son.
Actually that’s a statue. I’m not really sure what that part was about. But I like it.
Long time Bond composer John Barry’s license was revoked at that time (or was hegetting throat surgery? I can’t remember) so they got Michael Kamen (DIE HARD) to fill in. Other than composing the scores for FOR QUEEN & COUNTRY, ROAD HOUSE, RENEGADES, LETHAL WEAPON 2 and this, Kamen contributed very little to the summer of ’89. Lazy asshole. Kamen’s LETHAL WEAPON guitar noodler Eric Clapton joined original 007 theme guitarist Vic Flick to record a supposedly gritty ’89 take on the theme, but producers decided to go with Gladys instead. The Clapton song has never been released or leaked, so in lieu of that here’s Johnny Cash’s rejected THUNDERBALL theme:
It’s interesting that this movie had to compete with INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, which co-stars the original cinematic 007 and is part three of the series George Lucas convinced Steven Spielberg to do when he was sad he couldn’t do James Bond. Although I enjoyed LICENCE TO KILL it seems crude and cheesy compared to the master filmmaking and lush period detail of the Spielberg/Lucas version of a globe-trotting hero. It may also have taken some inspiration from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, specifically in the sequence where Bond climbs under a moving truck (while being fired at by a machine gun), and the gruesome special effect of Krest’s head inflating and exploding inside a compression chamber reminds me of the fates of some of Indy’s foes.
(A+ sound effect for that part, by the way.)
But part of the fun of LAST CRUSADE and LETHAL WEAPON 2 is the way they string together spectacular stunt sequences. That’s following in the Bond tradition, and in that area LICENCE is very respectable. There’s the underwater sequences, a boat crash, lots of hanging off of planes and climbing on and around trucks,
plenty of gigantic explosions
a flaming truck flying off a cliff, just missing a small plane
and my favorite stunt, if not the biggest, is a tanker truck doing a crazy side-wheelie that tips back over on top of a smaller vehicle!
Stunt coordinator Paul Weston’s Bond affiliation went back 22 years to stunts in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and continued as recently as SKYFALL in 2012.
LICENCE TO KILL got decent reviews at the time, and made a respectable $156 million worldwide, the twelfth biggest moneymaker of ’89. But it kinda got overwhelmed by the other movies of the summer. Despite changing the title for Americans, it opened here at #4, below LETHAL WEAPON 2 (in its second week) and BATMAN and HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (both in their fourth week), and adjusted for inflation it’s the lowest grossing Bond movie in the U.S.
This one really was the end of a Bond era. Although Dalton was contracted for a third film, and one was planned for a ’91 release (John Landis was considered to direct!), various corporate buyouts and lawsuits over the rights delayed it for years. Because of the gap, the producers wanted Dalton to sign a contract for several more films, but he only wanted to commit to one, which led to the casting of Pierce Brosnan for 1995’s GOLDENEYE.
LICENCE was also the last Bond movie for screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had written all but three of them up until that point. And it was the last for director John Glen, who had been editing 007 since ’69 and directed all of the ’80s Bond movies – FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and this.
Lowell went on to a career largely in television (she was on Law & Order, and was the lead in the TV version of A League of Their Own). She reprised the character of Pam Bouvier for the video game 007 Legends in 2012. (Sanchez is in the game too, but not played by Davi.) Soto’s later action works include MORTAL KOMBAT, MORTAL KOMBAT ANNIHILATION, VAMPIRELLA and BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER. Zerbe was that asshole politician guy in the MATRIX sequels. Davi was soon in MANIAC COP 2 and 3, PREDATOR 2, SHOWGIRLS, etc. And of course Del Toro started winning Oscars in the mid-’90s and his action/crime credentials include THE USUAL SUSPECTS, THE WAY OF THE GUN, THE HUNTED, SIN CITY, SAVAGES, SICARIO and SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO. But Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was the most prolific of all of them when it comes to action movies, not only appearing with Soto in the MORTAL KOMBATs, but also KICKBOXER 2, THE PERFECT WEAPON, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO, NEMESIS, RISING SUN, AMERICAN DRAGONS, BRIDGE OF DRAGONS, THE ART OF WAR, TEKKEN, BLACK COBRA, SKIN TRADE, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and many others. So he is the greatest legacy of LICENCE TO KILL.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.