The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘The Living Daylights’

Hey, it is James Bond Month here at the JOE-DOWN. Joe Brown and I picked four Bond films to dissect in our very nerdy fashion for December. For the first installment for Bond Month, we went with “The Living Daylights.”

The info:

The Movie: “The Living Daylights” (1987)

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Jeroen Krabbe

Director: John Glen

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and Gen. Koskov.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 70 percent

Our take:

Brown: Last week, we took on a new touch to a beloved franchise in “Creed.” And this week, we are diving head first into one of the most famous franchises in all of film: James Bond.

It’s about time we classed up this joint, since Froemming and I are less like Bond with tuxedos and martinis (shaken, not stirred) and more like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in t-shirts and beer.

Before we start, I want a quick look into our previous Bond experiences. As a child of the ‘90s, I was sucked in when “Goldeneye” came out on the Nintendo 64 and I believe that was the first one I saw. I do recall over a weekend where me and a friend of mine rented a bunch of the old Bond movies like “Moonraker,” “Live and Let Die” and “Goldfinger.” I watched the Pierce Brosnan ones on occasion (they were awful), and with Daniel Craig, I’ve seen “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall.” And it sounds like I may not have to see the other two.

So Froemming, when did Bond come into your life? Is it when he parachuted onto your yacht?

Froemming: My dad read the Ian Fleming books when he was a kid, so he really enjoyed watching the Bond films. So, these movies were as much of my growing up as “Star Wars” was. Now, I thought I had seen pretty much all of them, but it turns out, I had not. This came to me when you suggested “The Living Daylights” because I had never even heard of this one before. And there is probably a good reason why this Bond film is not as well known these days: This is the Bond movie where he sides with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan —  what would eventually splinter and some members would become part of the Taliban. Others would join groups such as al-Qaida.

Yeah, I was not about to dance around that until later on. I’m throwing it out right away. Global politics are always tough, and let’s just say this is one of those moments 007 was on the wrong side of history.

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Brown: Like Donald Trump, I have very little knowledge of world affairs, so I’m just gonna go ahead and leave you to that diatribe and move things forward.

So, we jump into this movie, literally, with double-0 agents jumping out of a plane for what looks like a mission but turns out to be a training exercise, complete with paintball guns for everyone. And for what is supposed to be an elite group of agents, there are some buffoons in the double-0s, with one guy getting stuck in a tree and one “dying” almost instantly. Way to serve the crown, guys.

But, there’s someone there who doesn’t like losing at paintball and has live rounds. And I laughed because I’m pretty sure “Child’s Play 3” did a similar thing.

Froemming: It wouldn’t be a Bond movie without some double-agents in the mix. I had to laugh when this guy is literally killing these agents, and is getting shot at with paintball guns. I mean…come on, this isn’t MI6’s first rodeo is it?

But I really thought was great was the monkeys. Yes, there was monkeys everywhere during this training. Why? Let me answer that with my own question: Why the (REDACTED) not?

I was waiting for David Letterman to ask 007 if he wanted to buy one.

Brown: Here’s why: After watching this movie, I listened to the James Bonding podcast, and in it, they mention that Gibraltar (where this training scene takes place) is notorious for swarming with monkeys. This is still a problem today.

When one of the agents dies, he has a tag attached to him that says “Smiert Spionam” (“Death to Spies” in the Bond canon), so we get a wild car chase through the thin, impossible-to-go-faster-than-10-MPH streets. This results in the truck driving off the road and Bond parachuting onto a yacht that just so happens to have a woman yearning for a real man instead of tennis pros and playboys. You get Timothy Dalton, lady, and he delivers a very dry “Bond, James Bond” line read. Be prepared for a lot of that, folks.

I had another laugh at this scene just because it reminds me of “Animal House” where the little kid thanks God when a hot blonde flies into his bedroom.

Froemming: We are then magically whisked away to the classic credit scenes. Now, obviously when I think of James Bond, the first band that pops into my head is A-ha. Not really, but I will say that while this is a terrible Bond theme song, I have heard worse. So we get an 80s New Wave band famous for the song “Take On Me” while scantily clad women dance. This must have been it was like to be on a lot of drugs in the 80s.  Like a Studio 54 from an ever worse level of hell.

Brown: The more I listen to this, I enjoy it a little bit, but it’s a weird choice for a Bond song. This movie came out three years after “Take On Me.” Did A-Ha have a string of hits in Europe that made this an appealing pick? Also, this song suffers for me for coming after Duran Duran’s song from “A View to a Kill,” which is one of my top three favorite Bond themes.

Back to the story: Bond goes on assignment to help KGB Gen. Georgi Koskov defect, so they have to get him out of Czechoslovakia. One problem: There may be an attempt on his life to prevent this.

Froemming: There sure is. After getting the most British yelling at in film history for punctuality (Bond is late for a concert) by Saunders, James is now working to help out Koskov with his escape from the men’s room during the intermission. As he is working his trusty sniper rifle, he sees Ann Veal from “Arrested Development”  Kara Milovy, the cellist from the concert aiming her sniper rifle at Koskov. Ignoring his orders to kill her, Bond simply shoots the gun out of her hands.

Brown: This gives Koskov the time he needs to meet up with Bond and head to a part of the Soviet gas pipeline where he will be impossibly shuttled off into safety in Austria, thanks in large part to a woman (an ally of Bond) using her breasts as a means of distraction to her boss that the pipeline is being tampered with. And because women are objects in Bond movies, this is NOT the only time a distraction like this will be used in “The Living Daylights.”

Froemming: Now, there is a moment here that kind of irked me. Because I am a stubborn American, when I heard the film refer to the trunk of a car as a “boot,” it bothered me. A boot goes on your foot, you shove smelly Koskov in a trunk.

Also, I am not a scientist, but shooting Kaskov through that pipeline made little sense to me. I figured after that first hard turn in a metallic tube would have mangled this goon beyond recognition. But, this is a James Bond film. We have lasers working in ways they probably shouldn’t. I can buy that. The tube? Not so much.

Brown: Well, the Russians don’t take this lightly. They are angrier than Froemming discussing this movie’s science. After finding out from Koskov that Smiert Spionam has been reimplemented by General Leonid Pushkin, the new head of the KGB, an assassin breaks into the safehouse where Koskov is being kept. How does he kill? Why, he chokes people to death with his Walkman headphones (Tipper Gore was right, music is dangerous) and EXPLOSIVE MILK BOTTLES.

Froemming: OK, first: When did Sallah from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” become one of the Soviets? Two: EXPLODING (REDACTED) MILK BOTTLES? The last time I was this baffled was my near-stroke moment when Mr. Clean and a migrant worker popped out of Ramona’s closet on “Fuller House.”

Now, because there has been this really weird exploding-milk-bottle attack on the intelligence agency and the recapturing of Kaskov by the Russians, James needs some gadgets to get to work. These are always entertaining moments in the Bond films, when Q shows off his latest gadgets for the spies. Here we get a ghetto blaster that shoots rockets, which at least made more sense to me than EXPLODING (REDACTED) MILK BOTTLES.

Brown: Look Froemming, the milk industry had some issues back in the ‘80s. They were finally able to market with the “Got Milk?” campaign, but it was tough at times when milk was just exploding.

Here’s where we get into one of the weirdest/saddest parts of the movie. Bond returns to Czechoslovakia because he’s convinced the cellist/assassin, Kara Milovy, is not actually an assassin, but Koskov’s girlfriend because her sniper rifle was filled with blanks. Bond uses her to find where Koskov is, and he does this by posing as one of Koskov’s friends. This extends for several scenes, but this whole search for Koskov with Kara has the beats of a chick flick where the guy is in love with his best friend’s wife. Bond is very much in the friend zone for a good chunk in this movie. I don’t know whether to laugh at Bond or pat him on the back and tell him, “It’s OK, man, I’ve been there.”

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Froemming: I listened to that podcast you mentioned, and I seem to remember them talking about how for this Bond film they cut down on the violence and sex. I mean, Bond doesn’t sleep with anyone in this film, and I think he doesn’t even kill anyone directly? I could be wrong, but I did think it was toned down quite a bit for this film compared to the other Bond films.

So we have Bond officially friend-zoned by Kara, after she comes home to find her apartment has been ransacked by either the KGB or a very creepy James Bond (I buy both premises). They need to escape, but the KGB is watching her place. After some tricky moves, they manage to fool the dirty, smelly Russian watching her place only to have this plan ruined by her wanting to return for her cello.

This would never have happened if Sean Connery was James Bond. #MakeJamesBondGreatAgain

Brown: You had your milk bottle rant, I have one on the cello brewing. But before that, let’s just talk about it now: Thoughts on Timothy Dalton as Bond? He played Bond just twice, for this and “License to Kill” and was Bond following Roger Moore, who was the most decorated with seven Bond movies to his name.

While I think Dalton is a fine actor, and I think he brought the sophistication I’d expect from James Bond, he doesn’t have the charisma and not as much charm as a Connery. It’s played so serious for a movie that has exploding milk bottles. Dalton almost seems uncomfortable at times in this role.

Froemming: I actually really liked him as Bond. I am not a big Roger Moore fan, and I find a lot of his Bond movies annoying, but Dalton played a straight-laced Bond in an film which has an uneven tone. I think it was more on the writers and director than on Dalton as to why this film felt off.

Nobody will top Connery in this role. I think the closest was Daniel Craig, because I really enjoy his take because his is so different than Connery’s take. But hey, we have a whole month of this debate, so let’s get back into the film.

Brown: And back to the (REDACTED) cello. If you need my friend zone argument confirmed, the cello does it. The big-ass thing just barely fits into the Aston Martin and makes Kara’s character into a whiner like she’s Willie from “Temple of Doom.” Then as they try to leave snowy Czechoslovakia, they are chased by KGB. And how do they do that? By using the cello case as a sled that outruns skiers and snowmobiles. I’m calling BS, movie. You try to make a serious Bond with Timothy Dalton and you use a cello case as a sled. That (REDACTED) belongs in a Roger Moore Bond. This is so dumb that I’m completely skimming over this chase scene that involves Kara somehow buying that her boyfriend’s bestie just so happens to own a car with rockets built into it and cuts a hole in a frozen lake with at least a foot of ice using just the bare rim.

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Froemming: I don’t know about you, but when Bond flies his car over the Russians, I paused the movie and imagined Waylon Jennings giving a brief commentary like on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Brown: I was too enraged to do that.

Froemming: Well, they slide into freedom. Now we are heading to Tangier and, I am so happy about this, we have our second Joe Don Baker film now in the JOE-DOWN! Yes, Baker plays Brad Whitaker, a man who dresses like he in the military, but they never really go into that. He also has wax statues of himself as nefarious world leaders like Napoleon and Hitler. To which I immediately referenced MST3K with “Joe Don Baker is mitte—Hitler!” Oh, “Mitchell,” the gift that keeps on giving.

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Brown: I rather like Baker in this role, but it’s so limited because there’s so much other stuff going on. We have two main villains in Whitaker and Koskov, a mystery with Pushkin, a KGB agent who has been a Bond ally but is thought to be a bad guy. Then there’s Necros, the assassin from before who needs his comeuppance. Like “Spider-Man 3,” this movie throws everything at you to where it hurts the experience a little bit. Give me one central bad guy instead of three (possibly four). There’s a finite amount of screen time to give out.

Froemming: Well, Whitaker is not pleased because the KGB is going back on an arms deal and want their money back. There was so much double-crossing and characters that this makes for a really crappy “Game of Thrones” experience for me.

Meanwhile, Bond is in Vienna with Kara. Why? Because we need some more awkward friend-zone moments at a fair, that’s why! So they are at this carnival, and Bond gets…let’s say I jotted down “rapey” a few times here, because he gets very creepy on the ferris wheel with the woman.

I have a complaint about Kara in this film. She is as charismatic an old boot through the entire film. I kept wondering: Her? What, is she funny or something? Like Michael Bluth with Ann Veal, I was puzzled by the interest in this Bond woman.

Brown: Kara’s an adorable woman, but years of Sean Connery misogyny have taught me that Bond girls should be drop-dead gorgeous and eager to have sex at any moment. This movie doesn’t have that (they mentioned in James Bonding that that was perhaps due to AIDS emerging in the ‘80s). Between Maryam d’Abo and Timothy Dalton, I feel like I’m watching something trying to portray a Bond movie instead of a Bond movie. That’s unfortunate because that’s just the problem of trying to live up to a legacy.

So we get Bond and Kara getting chased through Tangier by henchmen, which goes all the way into a hotel where Bond rips off a woman’s clothes for a distraction. Would movies like this even survive the first draft nowadays?

This is where it’s also revealed that Pushkin had no involvement in Koskov and Whitaker’s plot, so Bond hatches a fake assassination plot.

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Froemming: He sure does. Because we need more twists and turns in this two-hour film, they stage an assassination during a concert. But, ANOTHER (REDACTED) TWIST! Kara is in contact with Koskov the whole time! She drugs Bond and they then head to — Afghanistan! Man, I think I needed a map and character guide to keep up with all of this.

Brown: Well, we get another one in there with Kamran Shah, who turns out to be a leader of the Mujahideen that is locked up in jail with Bond and Kara. They do escape, complete with a guard getting knocked out with a bucket because we need another reminder of Roger Moore. I also feel like they should have paid Hanna Barbara royalties for that kind of scene.

To shoehorn another “Arrested Development” reference into our review, we also see them steal a airport stair car to escape with the Mujahideen.

It’s here where we discover the full scope of what’s going on: Koskov is using Soviet money to buy massive quantities of opium from the Afghans to sell. And with what is left, buy some American arms from Whitaker.

Froemming: Much like an onion, the more they peeled away the plot, the more it stunk and the more I cried.

Now, Bond teams up with the Mujahideen (again, global politics and films can be tricky and this is one of those examples) to plant a bomb on a plane….Yup.

They want to take out the opium plane (the drugs are smuggled as Red Cross packages), and Bond ends up getting stuck on the plane itself. And during this, the Mujahideen goes into battle against the Russians. This is just such a giant mess of a scene.

Brown: On the plane, Bond finally has his showdown with Necros, which there is no way Necros can win because he doesn’t have Walkman headphones to strangle Bond with. In a scene that I think “Uncharted 3” ripped off, Bond and Necros are on the back of the plane clinging onto the opium so they don’t freefall into the earth below. Bond gets the upper hand and Necros falls to his death thanks to Bond cutting his boot laces. Really… Also, there was a bomb defusal at some point. This movie really just tried to throw a bunch of (REDACTED) against a wall to see what would stick.

So Necros has been disposed of. Next on Bond’s “Kill Bill”-type list, there’s Whitaker in his creepy wax statue-filled “Scarface” villa.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, Timothy Dalton, Maryam d'Abo, 1987, (c)MGM/courtesy Everett Collection
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, 1987, (c)MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Froemming: Well, despite the fact his film has no concept of how bullet-proof anything works, Bond takes out Whitaker (after the most boring cat-and-mouse chase I have seen in a long time) with a wolf whistle and a “Home Alone”-series of missteps on Whitakers part. He dies on top of his diorama of the Battle of Waterloo. This actually happened in a Bond movie, folks. And they should be ashamed.

Brown: When Bond walks in and sees Whitaker playing with his Waterloo battle scene, did you get a “Spaceballs” flashback as well when Darth Helmet is playing with his action figures? Also, Whitaker’s gun in the cat-and-mouse chase looks like the tennis ball launcher from “American Gladiators.”

Finally, we get our final loose end taken care of when Koskov is captured by Pushkin and the KGB, who say they will send him back to Moscow in a “diplomatic bodybag.” You’re right about the whole violence thing, Froemming. Just say you’re going to kill him for betraying Russia.

Our final scene shows Kara playing cello in London and getting a standing ovation. Kamran and his cohorts show up late and because they had problems at the airport. That line made me more uncomfortable than anything I watched during our Halloween month. Time WAS NOT kind to this movie.

Froemming: I know they couldn’t have known the future, but that line made my jaw drop anyway.

Well, Brown, how about we sled on our cello cases down to recommendations?

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Brown: I’ve gone back and forth a lot on this, but at the end of the day, I can’t do it. This isn’t objectively a bad movie, but it just doesn’t feel like a Bond movie. If you want the more serious take on Bond, go Daniel Craig instead of Timothy Dalton.

Froemming: I would say if you are a hardcore fan for this franchise, then sure. But otherwise, this film was an uneven mess of a Bond film. The tone was baffling, the characters were boring and it lacked the thrill of other Bond films. Oh, and the questionable siding with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan sure has tainted this film. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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