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CASINO ROYALE (article first published : 2006-12-13)

After four decades, 20 films, five different stars as James Bond and an estimated R28 billion in global box-office takings, the latest 007 saga - Casino Royale - blasts on to the big screen countrywide. And with it comes the controversy that is the first blond and blue-eyed actor as author Ian Fleming's daring British agent with a licence to kill - 38-year-old Daniel Craig, reportedly chosen from some 200 candidates.

The good news is that the actor, seen recently in Layer Cake and Munich, is a breath of fresh air: bronzed, buffed, rough, tough and cocky, certainly the most laddish of the 007s, depicting Mr B as earthy and assured, mischievous and with a hint of a mean streak. Craig's Bond is the sort of guy who tells a barman who asks if he likes his drink shaken or stirred; "Do I look like someone who cares?"

So, from that point of view, a refreshing and welcome change.

But, for me, the two big disappointments with this new film, directed by Martin Campbell, who also gave us Goldeneye, are that it returns to a more realistic setting, where things become just too grey and sombre; and also completely does away with fun elements that include John Cleese as the gadget-maker. Bad move.

Furthermore, plotting becomes laboured, convoluted and confusing, humour only intermittent, while the four big action set pieces, good though they are, are too spaced out to make Casino Royale remarkable.

The film also goes on way too long at two-hours-plus. Frankly, I started to get a little bored. Call me old fashioned, call me a drip, but am I the only one who misses the 007 days when the glossy look wasn't all? I miss the styles of those earlier Bonds, when humour was tongue-in-cheek, action exciting but high-camp, nudge-winks and innuendo flew thick and fast and characters had silly names. Bring back the likes of villain Jaws, Pussy Galore, invisible cars and the groovy gadget-maker, I say.

Filmed first as a TV series in the mid 50s, then as a spoof movie in 1967, Casino Royale features a script by Robert Wade and Neal Purvis that has been polished by Crash writer Paul Haggis. It revolves around Bond battling terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a game of high-stakes poker at the gambling den of the title in Montenegro. But before all that happens, we get violence, some sex, some intrigue, love and betrayal. Also, lots of talking heads and travels to locations including Uganda, Madagascar, Venice, Miami, London and the Bahamas.

Expect to see Bond upsetting boss M (Judi Dench) often. Look forward to daring chases and fights on a construction site, on a busy airport runway, in an imploding house and on a stairwell, where 007 has to dodge a maniac with a bushknife.

Oh, and prepare to cringe for a sequence which has James, naked, tied to a chair and trying in vain to protect his private parts from poundings from a baddie.

Featuring former Miss Italy contestant Caterina Murino and Eva Green as (unremarkable) Bond conquests Solange and Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale gets a rating of 6/10. - Billy Suter




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