The honeymoon is over for Pierce Brosnan's incarnation of James Bond.
Just as Brosnan has begun to clearly distinguish his own bent on the character -- less loquacious than his predecessors, with an artful but well-bred smirk, quick to resort to lethal measures, yet an acute vulnerability when it comes to his bed mates -- most everything else that made the 1990s 007 renaissance such a smartly balanced mix of classic Bond and modern action has already been turned into a tired, caricature-like shadow of itself in "The World Is Not Enough."
The new, sassy and independent Miss Moneypenny (Samatha Bond) has been relegated back to desk duty and her banter reduced to a routine of spiritless double-entendres. Coming off her "Shakespeare In Love" Oscar win, Judi Dench's delightfully dour M has been laboriously humanized, given a conscience that doesn't suit her.
The action sequences are more rock'em-sock'em then ever, but they play like Best of Bond, double-espresso retreads -- an early boat chase-fire fight (hands down the coolest scene in the movie), a ski chase (yawn!), a helicopter bearing down on a trapped 007, only to be blown to smithereens.
Not to mention the sense of deja vu one gets watching the obligatory casino scene and the arrival of a blackguard bruiser with a mouth full of metal teeth.
I'm sorry to report that "The World Is Not Enough" is a an assembly-line production, just a step or two above the series' Roger Moore nadir.
The plot finds the British super-spy protecting Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the gorgeous daughter of an assassinated oil baron, from the movie's resident madman (Robert Carlyle), a half-assed anarchist with a jones for the girl, a scheme to disrupt the world's oil supply and a bullet lodged in his brain that has made him impervious to pain -- something the movie completely fails to exploit.
Babysitting is hardly a dignified assignment for Bond, James Bond, but with a relieving twist of loyalties his charge turns out to be a considerably less virtuous than she seems.
While Carlyle ("Trainspotting," "The Full Monty") is disappointingly bland and unambitious for a Bond baddie, Marceau lends a certain amount of class to her babe role, recovering a little dignity after being David Spade's plaything in "Lost & Found."
The same can definitely not be said for the acting-impaired Denise Richards ("Wild Things"), in the laughable role of a tank top- and short shorts-clad nuclear physicist named Dr. Christmas Jones. The worst Bond girl since Tanya Roberts in "View To a Kill," she's left director Michael Apted ("Extreme Measures," "Nell") trying to save face by putting her -- ahem -- best assets front and center at every available opportunity. And if he can get her wet in a clingy, thin white top, so much the better.
But Dr. Jones does come in handy when Bond needs a stolen nuke defused as it travels 70 mph through the pipeline toward Istanbul (even though no explanation is offered for what she's doing at the pipeline in the first place).
Throughout "The World Is Not Enough," I recited the suspension-of-disbelief mantra my uncle taught me when he took to my first Bond movie: "Shut up, it's James Bond!" But this time it just wasn't enough.
Even forgiving an excessive amount of the customary secret agent movie silliness (bad guys who go to absurdly elaborate extremes to commit the simplest crime, et al), "World" still limps along with clumsier than usual dialogue and vain (and vein) attempts at character depth, which burn screen time between admittedly spectacular stunts and contrived gadget sequences. (By the way, John Cleese has a cameo as a contraption coordinator being groomed to replace Desmond Llewelyn's Q.)
Lacking the rejuvenated freshness of the first two Brosnan Bonds, this 19th movie in the franchise seems both desperate for fresh material (M gets kidnapped? Oh, please!) and hopelessly ball-and-chained to its past.