Quantum of Solace (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
What red-blooded, fun-loving, popcorn-munching movie loyalist wouldn't want Quantum of Solace to be good?
After all, it reunites us with a certain stylish Ian Fleming character who, as of this outing, will have graced the silver screen 22 times though only twice now portrayed by a bracing Daniel Craig, this time tangling with a nefarious business mogul played by great French actor Mathieu Amalric. Sounds promising, right?
And how about that poster, with our hero just dashing enough to class up a ludicrously gangsta-lethal machine gun? It seemed so, well, promising, that some Britons even tried to ban it. Now that's anticipation.
If nothing else, Quantum of Solace could compete with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York, for the distinction of having this season's headiest tries-too-hard title. It's less important that the title does in fact derive from Fleming's fiction, apparently, because the movie itself generally doesn't.
Which is to say, unfortunately, that it feels like a misfire.
It's hard to admit. But there were clues even during the anticipation. Like the signature song, that Jack White-Alicia Keys duet, getting diluted through overexposure in movie-theater Coke commercials. Or our buried feelings about the inescapable fact that we now live in a Jason Bourne world. For red-blooded, fun-loving, popcorn-munching movie loyalists, that fact is great news but what, now, for poor James Bond?
Quantum of Solace is a sequel to 2006's Bond reboot, Casino Royale, which means keeping up with this movie's plot (inasmuch as that's even possible) requires remembering what went on in the last one. What matters most is that Bond's self-assigned mission here is to avenge Vesper Lynd, his one true love (who betrayed him, but, whatever) among his many, many, many lovers.
Craig's pretty clear on his motivation. Yet for all its ministrations about Amalric's Euro-villain destabilizing the Bolivian government so he can hoard natural resources the script, by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, just doesn't seem to have Bond's back. Nor does it offer enough substance to Craig's best supporting players: Judi Dench as Bond's boss, Jeffrey Wright as a watchful, cautiously helpful CIA man, and of course Amalric, doing his best to make his bad guy register.
The real problems most likely have to do with direction. Marc Forster, established as a maker of slightly slushy art-house fare (Finding Neverland, Stranger than Fiction, The Kite Runner), is perhaps simply out of his element.
Forster doesn't skimp on the action-intensive set-pieces, but doesn't stage them very coherently or compellingly, either. As a result, Quantum of Solace is so constantly climactic that it's rather anti-climactic. From the cliff-side car chase to the rooftop parkour parade to the tough guys in tensely brutal hand-to-hand combat, it's all a little too hard to follow just as it's hard to avoid thinking that maybe James Bond helped invent this stuff, but now Jason Bourne owns it.
Quantum of Solace is a mean little movie, grim and single-minded, without the pleasure or mischief that has made Bond so endearing (or contemptible, depending whom you ask). The closest it comes to that old frisky spirit is when his Bond Girl du jour (Olga Kurylenko) tells him, "There is something horribly efficient about you." To which, meaning it, he replies, "What a compliment."
That's the spirit, old boy. We'll be waiting for No. 23.