As the 23rd 007 film, SKYFALL, gears up to shoot, I was once more set to pondering exactly which of the 22 official James Bond movies is the most cinematically worthless of the lot. Many factors can go into what makes for a lousy 007 entry and what individual viewers consider wretched is rather subjective, so I’ll focus my spotlight on the Bond films that are generally considered to be the bottom of the barrel and work to figure it out from there.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
I was six years old when this came out and my folks took me with them to see it at a drive-in. All I remember of it from my vantage point bundled up in blankets in the station wagon’s back seat was the image of that moon buggy racing over a simulated lunar surface, and in retrospect I wish that were the only memory I had of the film. Sean Connery returned to the Bond series after a four-year absence and the unfortunate departure of his replacement, George Lazenby, who starred in 1969’s superb ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, and the regression in quality was indeed sorry to behold. Whereas the previous film dripped with style and restored 007 to a virtually gadget-free arena of straight-up espionage and shattering violence, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER brought things back to the already-tired level of lame-brained comic book adventures and strained, largely unfunny humor, at the center of which was a visibly older and much worse for wear Connery. Looking like he’d been subsisting on a diet of pub crisps and lager, Connery sported a ludicrous hairpiece and wore fashions that made him resemble some stereotypical high-toned dockside queer on the make for some dashing Navy trade.
Needless to say, such an aspect was totally inappropriate for our hero, but when one considered the quality of the so-called Bond Girls in this outing perhaps a bit of man-on-man action wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The plot was also idiotic and featured the first go-round with vehicular stunts like something out of a Hal Needham good ol’ boy flick or a DUKES OF HAZZARD episode from a few years later and felt as out of place in a James Bond movie as a twelve-inch penis sprouting organically from the loins of Jayne Mansfield.
The sole items of interest here were the all-too-brief inclusion of Kidd and Wint, a pair of intriguing homosexual assassins (played by Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) whose talents are barely — and fatally to themselves — put to the test against Bond, and Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks), a checkerboard pair of athletic, gymnastic lovelies who give Bond quite a kicking…only to be defeated by the out-of-shape agent (in a pink tie/scarf, no less) when he quite unbelievably manages to maneuver them into a nearby swimming pool.
Oh, and Shirley Bassey’s lovely theme tune marks what is more or less the demise of the old school classy Bond theme songs in favor of tunes provided by pop/rock stars, much to the detriment of the series’ classiness factor. But times change and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was there to announce James Bond’s headlong arrival into the 1970’s, for better or worse. And if you ask me, it was for the worse. Bottom line: this is one of the very few 007 films I can't sit through again for any reason. Not even Bambi and Thumper.
LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
James Bond, now played by former-Saint Roger Moore, encounters a much different spookshow than he's used to.
Once a trendsetter, the Bond flicks would now occasionally imitate popular fads in cinema and in this case the genre being nodded to was that of black exploitation, or “blaxploitation” if you prefer. It was stupid and insulting enough to see 007 pitted against a cadre of stereotypical scary Negroes common to the genre that gave us Dolemite and Truck Turner, but was it really necessary to go there with the whole voodoo element? I think not, but at least we got a mouthwatering twenty-two-year-old Jane Seymour to make us forget the James Bond-meets-minstrel show travesty that tries to pass itself off as a spy flick. This film also gave us the first of seven 007 films starring Roger Moore as James Bond, an element that polarizes Bond fans like no other. For many Bond followers of my age group, we first saw 007 when the films were run on ABC and each airing was a big event in those pre-home video days of yore, especially when introduced to them by parents who were fans of Sean Connery. Then Moore took the role and his broadly comedic take on the character struck a chord with the slightly younger new fans, while many of us Connery groupies remained loyal to the Bond-as-school-bully version. I’ve personally never been able to stomach the humor in the Bond films and really learned to despise it with the advent of the Moore era, so I take a very dim view of all of his entries, with the exceptions of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977), although in the case of the latter I find it disposable solely because it’s pretty much a beat-for-beat remake of the Sean Connery YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), only with the emphasis on outer space in one and the ocean’s depths in the other. The Hal Needham-esque vehicular insanity returns with a truly fucking just-plain-crazy bit involving a speedboat, and in the middle of that madness is the unwelcome introduction of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a Red Man-chawin’ redneck character who seems to have materialized from another film entirely.
I guess his countrified ways were meant to contrast with Bond’s perceived British sophistication, but the shit just wasn’t funny and veered straight into the downright embarrassing. And as noted with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, the days of the old school Bond theme song were over and Top 40 pop music artists took the reigns from John Barry and his collaborators, and perhaps no other 007 theme song epitomizes this aspect as well as Paul McCartney and Wings’ overblown and epochal title song for this movie. I got sick of the LIVE AND LET DIE theme back in ’73 and could go the rest of my life without ever hearing it again; I know damned near everyone else on the planet digs it, and you are more than welcome to it.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, the world's deadliest assassin, in the process of being infinitely more cool than Roger Moore's James Bond.
Often turning up on fans' rosters of the worst that the Bond franchise has to offer, this is definitely a lesser entry but I don't think it's deserving of all the vitriol it gets. Christopher Lee out-cools Bond, the Thailand locales are exotic and surreal, a pre-FANTASY ISLAND Herve Villechaise scores as diminutive servant/assassin Nick Nack, and the whole thing comes off as some kind of odd Asian-flavored fever dream starring 007, so I can't quite slag it off. And while LIVE AND LET DIE sought to cash-in on the blaxploitation angle, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN briefly tips its hat to the then-hot kung fu movie boom with a brief but thoroughly entertaining bit featuring Bond at the mercy of a school full of martial arts killers, only to find himself rescued by the baddest-assed pair of schoolgirls you've ever seen, one of whom, Yuen Qiu, would turn up some thirty years later in the memorable role of the endlessly chainsmoking landlady/badass in KUNG FU HUSTLE. However, on the downside are two of the series' most lackluster Bond Girls, Britt Eckland as Mary Goodnight and Maud Adams — who would return to the series nine years later as the title character in OCTOPUSSY — in the nothing role of Andrea Anders, one of the worst theme tunes out of the entire lot (sung by "To Sir With Love" chanteuse Lulu), and the Chernobyl-level unwelcome return of Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, somehow incongruously turning up on vacation in Thailand.
Clifton James returns as uber-redneck J.W. Pepper: What the fuck is this guy doing in Thailand?
Those elements notwithstanding, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is a passable entry that can be enjoyed with a minimum of brain cell use.
Bond versus the enormous Jaws (Richard Kiel) atop a ski lift. Now, that's entertainment (?)!
Once more riding the cash-in bandwagon, this film can be accurately summed up with a mere five words: "James Bond meets STAR WARS." Utterly ridiculous and totally without a brain in its head, this one features an embarrassing laser gun battle in outer space between spacesuit-equipped government agents and the forces of the bad guy's private space-army, a Venetian gondola that's tricked-out a la the famous Aston Martin in GOLDFINGER (1964), a truly terrible throwback theme song by Shirley Bassey — making her the only singer to croon a Bond theme tune three times, let alone twice — , one of the series' blandest villains, a zero-G sex scene at the film's climax (which also features one of the absolute worst jokes in the series' entire run) and the return of Richard Kiel as the gigantic razor-toothed assassin Jaws, a character I found to be too over-the top in the previous THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977). This one's enjoyable enough if you were a fourteen-year-old boy when it came out (as I was), but it does not pass muster for grownups.
Loaded with wall-to-wall hot chicks (many of whom could have been played by top notch drag queens) thanks to the title character having an all-girl army, this flick tested the limits of just how brain-dead a 007 movie could be. The plot is some bullshit about Faberge eggs and the theft of Russian artifacts and their replacement with fakes or some such mess, but it soon becomes just so much white noise as the film moves from one uninvolving set piece to another, yielding zero in terms of thrills or entertainment. Rita Coolidge provides "All Time High," a perfunctory theme song at best, and we actually get to witness Roger Moore literalizing his buffoonish version of Bond by actually appearing as a circus clown.
Any movie that features James Bond in clown drag is best avoided, and that element is just the icing on this very large shit-cake. I found nothing to recommend about this film and urge those who have not seen it to do nothing to alter that state of affairs. OCTOPUSSY is wholly without worth and I can't for the life of me understand who it was aimed at. Certainly not James Bond fans.
A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)
Roger Moore's thankfully final outing as 007, accompanied by Grace Jones as May Day (and not Chris Tucker as seen in THE FIFTH ELEMENT).
As much as I loathe and detest OCTOPUSSY and all that it stands for, A VIEW TO A KILL gets my vote as the very worst James Bond movie ever made, and it earns that dubious distinction for a great number of reasons but I'll just sum it all up thusly: every single thing about this movie sucks ass, except for the Duran Duran theme song, and you just may give up on Bond for life if you sit through it. Grace Jones as a Bond Girl who's more masculine than Bond, a plot that's just a colossal "who cares?', Tanya Roberts as a plank of wood, the complete and utter waste of Christopher Walken as the uninspired bad guy (Fellow Walken fans: even the mighty Chris isn't worth sitting through this movie; he's given nothing to do and he does nothing with that nothing) and damned near everything else contained within A VIEW TO A KILL's overlong 131-minute running time would have sunk just about any other franchise and I'm frankly surprised the series continued after this creative disaster. But the one thing that made me aware I was seeing the worst James Bond film ever made occurred early in the film, during the customary pre-credits mini-adventure: while on assignment in Siberia, an ancient-looking Roger Moore as 007 escapes from enemy agents while snowboarding to the musical accompaniment of — now get this — the Beach Boys' "California Girls." Honest to God! I only saw this film when it originally came out, just over a quarter-century ago, so I don't remember if that version of the song was the real thing or a cover, but either way I guess I should be thankful it wasn't the David Lee Roth cover. Now that would have caused me to commit seppuku right then and there, spilling my assorted viscera all over the floor of Fine Arts IV, thereby providing more genuine entertainment than anything found onscreen.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
Timothy Dalton's 007 tries to stay awake during what may be the most boring film in the series.
Aside from introducing us to Timothy Dalton as the world's greatest superspy and bringing him into play during a terrific pre-credits mini-adventure, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS clocks in at an agonizing 130 minutes and is a stone-cold bore. Once seen, it's easily forgotten and even a Bond diehard like me will put the particulars of its plot out of his or her mind. Life's just too short for dull 007 stories and you will miss nothing if you turn this one off once the awful song heard during the opening credits starts, and that song annoys even more because it's the lamest thing the superlative Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was ever involved with. Plus, at the end of the film we get the actual theme song, "The Living Daylights," as blandly droned out by the limper-than-limp a-ha of "Take On Me" infamy. I doubt even the purest Bolivian cocaine could keep anyone awake during that one.
LICENCE TO KILL (1989)
For the second time in 007 history, a wedding leads to unspeakable tragedy...(Refer to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE if you don't know what I'm talking about.)
Many people really, really hate this one and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I've heard it explained away as folks not liking its plot having Bond go "off the reservation" in order to avenge the mutilation-by-tiger shark of his CIA pal Felix Leiter and the rape/murder of Leiter's bride as orchestrated by a vile drug lord (a chilling Robert Davi), a rampage flat-out not approved by MI-6 that features the kind of sadistic violence common to the portrayal of Bond and his world as seen in the books written by Bond's creator, Ian Fleming. Sure it's nasty, but the series started out as quite shocking and brutal in its content, but then came GOLDFINGER and its comic book touches, a successful formula that has been repeated in nearly every 007 film released since 1964. I guess the general moviegoing audience had become so used to the Bond films as over-the-top, snarky self-parodies after Connery's later pictures and the whole goofy Roger Moore run (with the notable exception of the largely-straight FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), so when the filmmakers opted to give us a gritty and violent 007 outing many were not ready for LICENCE TO KILL's meaner-than-hell attitude. I greatly enjoy the vicious Bond of the novels and early films, so the only things that didn't work for me here were the somewhat-distracting presence of Wayne Newton (who I do like, but I find him out of place in a Bond film) and the obligatory car chase/exploding secret base finale involving an eighteen-wheeler. If you like your Bond movies more genteel and sunny then I guess that's cool, but I feel both Timothy Dalton and LICENCE TO KILL have gotten an unfair rap and that's a damned shame because Dalton was a terrific Bond. Much better than Pierce Brosnan's runway model/clotheshorse spy. (Yes, I know ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE's George Lazenby was a model, so please don't write in to tell me I'm being hypocritical.)
Bested only by THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in the sheer boredom department, GOLDENEYE marks Pierce Brosnan's debut as Bond and it's a looooong 130 minutes that comes to life during the pre-credits sequence and 007's close encounter with Famke Janssen's memorably nymphomaniacal/psychotic Xenia Onatopp. Nothing much to say here other than to urge caution when considering sitting through it; if you choose to do so, have a comfy pillow at the ready.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
007 holds co-star Robert Carlyle hostage and demands that the screenwriters alter the script so it becomes TRAINSPOTTING 2, rather than the utterly generic film that resulted.
This one offended me by virtue of it being a textbook example of a by-the-numbers entry in a long-running series. I did not give a good goddamn about anyone or anything in this rote time-waster and was especially put off by the presence of that human bobble-head Denise Richards as — I shit you not — nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (my vote for the all-time worst would-be funny Bond Girl moniker). Not only does Richards annoy the living shit out of me in everything I've seen her in (with the notable exception of a guest turn in an episode of TWO AND A HALF MEN), she's now forever captured on film as a willing participant in a post-coital moment with Bond in which he seizure-inducingly comments, "Looks like Christmas comes more than once this year." I don't ever need to see this one again either.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)
Daniel Craig's 007 and Olga Montez (Olga Kurylenko) traverse the wasteland that is QUANTUM OF SOLACE.
I've reviewed QUANTUM OF SOLACE at length, but I'll let it suffice to say I found this film extremely disappointing after CASINO ROYALE (2006) and felt it came off like I was watching someone else play a video game. The film was also very heavily influenced by the Jason Bourne films, replicating that series' propensity for confusingly-edited action sequences, and all I have to say to that is this: if I want to see a Jason Bourne movie, I'll go see a fucking Jason Bourne movie! I'm a James Bond fan, god damn it, born and bred, and I accept no substitutes. There is no excuse for Bond stooping to imitate those who followed in his wake, especially not after CASINO ROYALE, for fuck's sake!
Now that I've had my rant, what do you name as the most rock-bottom-awful 007 adventure? To quote the guy on the receiving end of Dirty Harry's infamous hard-on-inducing speech about his .44 Magnum, "I gots ta know!"