Licence to Kill
directed by John Glen
(United Artists/MGM, 1989)

Timothy Dalton is rarely revered for his performance as James Bond, but his second (and final) performance in Licence to Kill is top-notch work. His serious, sometimes wooden approach to the role suits the oh-so serious storyline. (A wise-cracking Roger Moore certainly couldn't have carried this one.)

Bond is in the States as the best man at CIA pal Felix Leiter's wedding. But Leiter (David Hedison, returning to the role for the first time since Live & Let Die) is called away at the last minute to bag a druglord who's eluded his grasp for many years, and Bond's assistance at "fishing" the villain out of a mid-air getaway is thrilling stuff. Then Bond and Leiter parachute to the church in time for his wedding to the radiant Della Churchill (Priscilla Barnes). But a $2 million bribe is too much for one agent to resist, and druglord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) is soon free, and he decides to take Leiter out of the picture before returning to his island paradise outside U.S. jurisdiction. The following scenes, with Della's implied rape and murder and Leiter's brutal maiming, are among the tensest in Bond history.

Bond's ensuing quest for revenge is called to a halt by a particularly unsympathetic M (Robert Brown), so Bond resigns his commission and sets out on his own. His vendetta will lead him to become Sanchez's new best friend and protector, as Bond whittles away at the villain's trust in his lieutenants.

As Sanchez, Davi makes an excellent villain, defying the usual megalomaniac stereotype of numerous Bond films. He is utterly amoral, witty and generous to his friends, vicious and cruel when crossed. He also has good henchmen, including ship's captain Anthony Zerbe (Milton Krest), security chief Killifer (Everett McGill), twisted killer Dario (Benicio Del Toro) and the yuppie accountant Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke) -- plus Wayne Newton as the cheerfully fraudulent Professor Joe Butcher.

Licence to Kill also stars Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora, Sanchez's terrified girlfriend. She has little merit beyond the standard Bond girl beauty -- her acting is stiff, and her character is uninteresting. Carey Lowell more than makes up the balance, however, as Pam Bouvier, who combines beauty with brains and a savvy toughness which makes her a good match and ally for Bond.

Especially delightful is this film is the chance to watch Q (Desmond Llwewelyn) out in the field, assisting Bond as a more-than-competent operative (on personal leave, of course). He gets more screen time here than he ever has before, and it makes me wish he'd been used more fully throughout the Bond series.

Licence to Kill is a little more grisly than most films in the series; some of the deaths are handled in particularly gruesome manners. Planes, trucks, stinger missiles and an engraved cigarette lighter make for one of the most riveting, exciting Bond climaxes ever. Don't let Dalton's participation scare you away -- this is one for the books.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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