The James Bond movies can seem pretty hidebound at times, but the series has taken some chances over the years. As different actors have donned the tux, the Bond films have shifted between two-fisted action and outright camp, while spending a lot of time exploring the gray area between. That’s partly why the “outlier” Bond film Never Say Never Again is such a persistent disappointment. When Never Say Never Again was released in 1983, Roger Moore had been Bond for a decade, and the series had become progressively sillier. When Sean Connery agreed to step back into the role that made him famous (for a rival production company), Bond fans had reason to hope for something closer to From Russia With Love and Goldfinger in terms of tone, style, and plot. Instead, Orion Pictures and director Irvin Kershner delivered a flabby, cutesy Bond picture, which derives most of its enduring entertainment value from its cast—starting with the man at the top.
Connery plays Bond as a creaky old bastard, reduced to running faltering training missions, and forced by his bosses to spend more time convalescing. While at a spa, Bond encounters sexy assassin Barbara Carrera, and upon following her trail, he uncovers a plot by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. involving stolen warheads, a funkercising Kim Basinger (in a see-through leotard), and seafaring badass Klaus Maria Brandauer. Never Say Never Again’s story was freely adapted from Ian Fleming’s Bond novel Thunderball—which Fleming himself took from a screenplay he worked on for NSNA’s producers back in the ’50s—but it’s been awkwardly updated for the early ’80s, with a sleazy-sounding Michel Legrand light-jazz soundtrack, and a casino mano-a-mano between the hero and Brandauer that tests their respective skills at handling a joystick.
Connery sets the right tone for Never Say Never Again by treating the material lightly, but never tongue-in-cheek, and Brandauer, Basinger, and Carrera follow suit, cultivating a vibe that’s easygoing, without the oppressive whimsy of something like Moore’s Octopussy, which was released the same year. (The only character who’s completely off the beam is the comically patrician British Consulate flack played by Rowan Atkinson.) Yet much of Connery’s good effort is undone by Batman/Flash Gordon scribe Lorenzo Semple Jr., whose kitschy screenplay proves once again that he’s never met a pulp icon he couldn’t treat with thinly veiled contempt. Never Say Never Again is too agreeable to dislike, but even now, 25 years later, it’s still bothersome that Connery and company didn’t take their rogue production and remind the moviegoing public how Bond should be done.
Key features: A matter-of-fact commentary track with Kershner and Bond expert Steven Jay Rubin, and a trio of halfway-apologetic featurettes. One further note, on the Blu-ray edition: This disc doesn’t have anywhere near the depth of sound or clarity of image of the other Bond Blu-rays. Like the movie itself, the disc feels tossed-off.