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BERRY BOND
OSCAR WINNER SPICES UP 20TH IN BOND FRANCHISE

DIE ANOTHER DAY *** 1/2

STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Dame Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike

DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for violence, some sex and smutty tag lines

THE LOWDOWN: James Bond, in the 20th film in the original series, battles a North Korean who has harnessed the sun's power.

We first see her rising out of the water in a knockout bikini, just as we first saw Ursula Andress 40 years ago in the first James Bond movie, "Dr. No." As movie entrances go, they're hard to beat.

The difference in "Die Another Day" - the 20th film in the original series - is that Halle Berry is the first Oscar winner to be a card-carrying, certifiable "Bond girl," i.e., bedmate and projector of smutty lines and looks in Bond's direction. (Carefully note Berry's eyes as she chides Bond for his multisyllabic vocabulary and says, "My, there's a mouthful.")

If you were among those who mourned that after a performance as brave as Berry's in "Monster's Ball," she'd follow it up by life as a walking poster, nothing that happens in "Die Another Day" will lighten your mood or cause you to think more highly of Berry's career options.

On the other hand, if you give some thought to the size of her paycheck for being eye candy in this 40th anniversary Bond, I think you'll be happy for her.

At least 20 years ago (when Roger Moore was the franchise hood ornament), the Bond movies became superannuated teen movies - silly, dirty-minded action extravaganzas about absolutely nothing at all.

There has been, for many decades now, a Bond movie template - a mold that never changes - while new details are devised for each new addition to the most successful franchise in movie history.

There's always a killer action opening (this time Bond surfs some monstrously gnarly North Korean waves); a lot of continuously dirty double-entendres; some silly new gadgets; a lot of boring, nonsensical plot exposition no one cares about; a frequent change of exotic locations; and then, at the end, there's always Bond in the middle of some huge, expensive movie set that will, at the climax, turn into a thunderball and rain cinders on everyone in a 40-mile radius.

The details, though, are always different.

For those keeping score at home, "Die Another Day" is: 1. a bit darker than usual; 2. a lot nuttier and wilder than usual; and 3. being as aggressively marketed as any Bond film in history.

About the last - as any good megabuck movie franchise should be, Bond has been pressed into service to sell products on TV. In this one, no fewer than two high-end cars - a pink Thunderbird convertible and a green Jaguar convertible with a mounted machine gun - are seen in the film and have been turned into big TV car campaigns.

Never mind that Berry barely drives her pink Thunderbird up to valet parking, the less-advertised Jag has a big automotive pas de deux on the ice with Bond's tricked-out Aston Martin in one of the movie's set pieces.

As for the nonsensical plot, buckle up for this one: Bond, after 14 months of being tortured by scorpions in a North Korean prison camp, is let out to do eventual battle with the North Korean bad guy he thought he'd sent to kingdom come.

It turns out, though, the fellow escaped, went to Cuba, got his face altered and his DNA rinsed and turned into a mid-Atlantic diamond miner who wants to branch out into world conquest. He's figured out a way to harness the sun's power to do just that.

Berry is the CIA operative in Bond's bed and on the case. Rosamund Pike plays another of Bond's playmates - a more traditional, morally slippery "Bond girl" role. John Cleese and Dame Judi Dench are wasted, true, but star Pierce Brosnan is having no difficulty letting the mileage show in his face - a good thing, in his case, because he's spent most of his professional life looking like a store mannequin.

Two final miscellaneous things. Madonna is acceptable here in a cameo as a fencing instructor and atrocious in what has to be the worst Bond movie theme in history.

And here, assuredly, is one of the all-time great Bond movie scenes: A bearded, wild-haired, bare-chested, soaking wet, foul-smelling Bond escapes his prison camp guardians, swims up to the beach of the Hong Kong Yacht Club and walks through people milling around in evening dress and at the front desk demands his "usual room."

He gets it, of course, as well he should.

Jolly good fun.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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