Directed By: John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell
Tag line: "His bad side is a dangerous place to be"
Trivia: A scene in this film was shot at a Key West, Florida house that formerly belonged to writer Ernest Hemingway
1989’s Licence to Kill, the 16th entry in the James Bond series and the second to feature Timothy Dalton as Agent 007, continues the trend set forth in the previous film, The Living Daylights, in that it favors action and high drama over romance and comedy. The result is a hard-hitting, occasionally brutal motion picture featuring a determined lead character, who doesn’t allow anything (or anyone) to keep from completing his mission.
While on his way to his wedding, CIA agent Felix Leiter (David Hedison) receives word that a plane carrying Central American drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) has just landed in nearby Key West, Florida. With the help of his Best Man, British agent James Bond (Dalton), Leiter and his team make a quick detour to capture Sanchez, then hurry to the church, arriving in plenty of time to finish the wedding. Unfortunately, the wealthy Sanchez spread enough money around in advance to buy his freedom, and before heading south of the border, sends Dario (Benicio Del Toro), his most trusted henchman, to kill Leiter’s new bride (Priscilla Barnes), then feed Leiter himself to a hungry shark (he loses his leg and part of his arm in the attack).
When word of what happened reaches Bond, he decides to take matters into his own hands and hunt down Sanchez. Fearing their top agent is allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment, MI6 sends “M” (Robert Brown) to convince Bond to abandon this personal vendetta against Sanchez. When he refuses, “M” suspends Bond’s licence to kill and attempts to take him into custody, at which point 007 escapes. Now a rogue agent, Bond sneaks his way into Central America and, with the help of CIA operative Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), heads to Isthmus, a small republic controlled by Sanchez, where he intends to infiltrate the drug lord’s operation. Aided by both “Q” (Desmond Llewellyn), who’s on holiday and sympathetic to Bond’s cause; and Sanchez’s oft-battered girlfriend Lupe (Talisa Soto), an undercover Bond soon gains access to Sanchez’s inner circle, but will he exact his revenge before his true intentions are revealed?
As it was with The Living Daylights, Bond spends little time in Licence to Kill wooing the opposite sex (unlike previous entries starring both Connery and Moore, Dalton’s 007 is too focused to engage in a series of frivolous romances). As a result, the movie is packed with one exciting scene after another, beginning with the pre-title sequence (following a shoot-out, Leiter and Bond capture Sanchez, then parachute to the church where the wedding ceremony is to be held) and finishing as all Bond films do, with an extended action scene (which, in the case of this picture, involves a fleet of big rigs, a few Stinger missiles, and a whole mess of explosions). Dalton once again turns in a solid performance as Her Majesty’s top secret agent, playing the part far more seriously than any of his predecessors (there’s even mention made of Bond’s brief marriage, featured in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended in tragedy, feelings that most certainly come rushing back when he discovers Leiter’s new bride lying murdered on her wedding bed). As the Bond girls, Lowell and Soto are appropriately beautiful, and 007 does spend some quality alone time with both, but in each case the romantic tryst is short lived, and doesn’t interfere with the task at hand.
Along with the two ladies, the rest of the supporting cast is also superb. Robert Davi’s Sanchez is the perfect Bond foil, suave and elegant one minute, ruthless the next (one particular underling finds himself on the wrong side of a pressure chamber, resulting in the movie’s bloodiest sequence), and a very young Benicio Del Toro, despite his limited screen time, makes for a great henchman (in the few scenes in which his character appears, he’s almost as sadistic as Sanchez). In addition, singer Wayne Newton makes a brief appearance as a slimy televangelist working for Sanchez, while Desmond Llewellyn’s “Q” has an even bigger presence in this film than he had in Octopussy, providing Bond with a few awesome gadgets (including a movie camera that emits a laser ray), then sticking around to assist with the mission (sometimes without Bond himself knowing about it).
As with The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill’s central story branches off in a couple of unnecessary directions (the subplot featuring the stinger missiles felt like a late addition, as if it were added simply to explain why they turn up in the grand finale), but as a whole, it’s a strong entry in the series, and left me feeling a little sad that Timothy Dalton didn’t return for another outing. With all due respect to Pierce Brosnan (who was himself tailor-made for the role), I’d have liked to see Dalton play the part at least one more time.