The children's refrain quite nicely sums up Pierce Brosnan's second James Bond film: "Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse."
In a terrific turn as Ian Fleming's superspy in "GoldenEye" (1995), Brosnan breathed new life into the longest running series in movie history. It's a good thing the current "Tomorrow Never Dies" was not the comeback vehicle, or this series would be as dead as Blofeld.
Brosnan isn't given much of a chance to turn on his signature charm in a movie that is closer to a pumped-up Schwarzenegger flick than the 18th Bond series feature.
The film begins promisingly, however, as Bond breaks up a terrorist arms bazaar in spectacular fashion. Meanwhile, megalomaniacal media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is trying to start a war between the British and Chinese by shooting at both sides from his stealth boat (which mysteriously seems about five times as large inside as outside) and generating headlines in which each country blames the other for the conflict.
Carver's headlines seem a bit too prescient to M (Judi Dench), who sends Bond, who once had a relationship with Carver's wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), to find out what's up. Bond arrives at Carver's gala ball to celebrate his worldwide satellite news network. There, he finds a mysterious Chinese woman, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), who also seems to be on Carver's trail.
Bond, whose strategy seems to be a bull-in-the-china-shop approach, soon has Carver hunting him, and the inevitable mayhem results.
Besides having the dumbest title in the Bond series, "Tomorrow Never Dies" also has the least clever script, credited to Bruce Feirstein. Unlike the deft (though admittedly preposterous) plotting of past Bond adventures, here, as in a Jackie Chan movie, the scenario is little more than an excuse to string together several violent sequences.
The difference is that Chan plays things strictly for laughs, while "Tomorrow Never Dies" is pretty grim, with the only humor coming from the usual double entendres.
Bond doesn't outsmart anyone in this movie, he just outshoots them. He manages to punch his way out of situations in which a bad guy has the drop on him. And when he wants to investigate something, he takes the subtle approach of walking in and openly snooping around.
Even the Bond girls are badly used. Hatcher's role is particularly thankless, meaning to be poignant but is merely pitiful. Yeoh had the potential to be the best Bond girl ever. She physically kept up with Chan in "Supercop," so she can easily overmatch Brosnan. Unfortunately, no romantic chemistry is generated at all, and the two don't even pair up until the last third of the movie.
Pryce does his best with an underwritten villain, but is relegated to lame one-liners about buying presidents and how bad news is the best news. As his musclebound lieutenant, Stamper, Gotz Otto is a dead ringer for Robert Shaw in "From Russia with Love," but I hesitate to even mention that great movie in a review of this one.
On the plus side, you'll never be bored watching "Tomorrow Never Dies." It's a virtual assault on the senses by director Robert Spottiswoode, the studio hack whose previous work includes "Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot."
There are two superb extended action sequences. One involves the best Bond car yet, a remote-controlled BMW. In the other, Bond and Wai Lin, who are handcuffed together and driving a motorcycle, are chased through the streets of an Oriental city by a helicopter. It alone is almost worth the price of admission. Almost.
"Tomorrow Never Dies" is very loud and violent, but not so clever or romantic. It may leave you shaken - but not stirred.