Recently I noted, in connection with JOHNNY ENGLISH, that spy spoofs tend to bear little resemblance to the “straight” spy films they ostensibly poke fun at. It’s become a genre onto itself, with its own conventions and clichés. Movies like AUSTIN POWERS aren’t really takeoffs on Bond; that’s just an excuse for the kind of whimsical “psychedelic” freewheeling that the genre lends itself to so well. This brings us to CASINO ROYALE, one of the earlier (1967) examples of pseudo-spy goofiness, which has little to do with the Ian Fleming novel it so tediously attempts to skewer.You know you’re in trouble when the credits list five directors and three writers—to say nothing of the seven others who contributed to the script uncredited, among them star Peter Sellers. The only films I can think of that top it are Roger Corman’s The Terror, which had six directors, and The Dungeonmaster, which boasted seven—we all know how well those went. It’s a classic Hollywood example of too many cooks, and no doubt this does much to explain the film’s torpid pace and lack of focus.
CASINO ROYALE just doesn’t go anywhere in particular; the narrative collapses into unrelated set pieces; and I’m not even going to try to summarize the meandering plot. It’s an awfully haphazard way to put a movie together. Unsurprisingly, real laughs come only on occasion. Comedy generally has to run at a certain minimum speed to come out right, and CASINO, clocking in at over two hours, gets bogged down far too often. The film isn’t psychedelic—it’s tranquilized.
Another problem with films like this is that it just isn’t inherently funny to joke on spy flicks. Parody and satire (they’re not the same thing) depend largely on contrast for their effects. You can’t really make fun of something that’s already supposed to be a bit funny to begin with. And the world of James Bond has always been slightly campy, unreal. CASINO ROYALE includes a character named—ha, ha—Miss Goodthighs, but the real Bond hangs out with chicks called Pussy Galore and Xenia Onatopp; you tell me which is funnier. And who would you rather spend two hours in the theatre with?
There are some random pleasures despite the lumbering direction, not the least of which is seeing Joanna Pettet bounce about in an I Dream of Jeannie outfit. Woody Allen also pops up to do his neurotic Jew shtick. He’s reasonably funny in his all too brief turn (it sounds like he wrote his own lines), and you miss him when he disappears from the screen.
But for the most part the film runs on empty. Its excessively jaunty score (by Burt Bacharach—now you know why he’s in AUSTIN POWERS) sounds like it belongs in another movie, a funnier one. Here, it just underscores the film’s general lack of real humor; it’s rather annoying to keep hearing all this perky music when nothing terribly witty is happening.Really, you’re better off with James Coburn’s FLINT movies. Or even the real Bond flicks, which in many ways beat CASINO ROYALE on its own territory.