In 1967 the world saw the release of You Only Live Twice, the fifth instalment in the series of immensely successful action thrillers about the world’s most suave master of espionage, James Bond. It marked the fifth – and for the time being, the last – Sean Connery’s appearance in the lead role and, as franchise logic dictated, wowed its audiences with elaborate set pieces and the sheer scale of its globetrotting narrative. However, it wasn’t the only Bond film to see the light of day that year.
It would seem that having been present in the cultural consciousness for about five years, the James Bond franchise was already lending itself to be parodied. It isn’t all that surprising given the fact the series had slipped into a familiar groove and carried a degree of expectedness built into the experience. Ahead of any new installment, viewers were already trained to anticipate very specific thematic beats, structural resolutions and such minutiae as gadgets, theme songs and James Bond’s prospective love interests, aka ‘Bond girls’. The series became modular enough to border on cliché, which naturally asks for a comedic treatment.
This is exactly what Casino Royale was supposed to be – a gentle and respectful mockery of the insanely successful blockbuster franchise. Notably though, it was itself an adaptation (loose as it was) of Ian Fleming’s seminal novel that introduced the world to the character of James Bond. And its intention was to take the already existing Bond mythos and kick it up a few notches to turn what was organically an elevated tongue-in-cheek take on a spy film (especially in contrast to something like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold released two years earlier) into an outright bonkers parody. Everything about the film was purposefully designed to be slightly more jazzed up in contrast to the original recipe: the kitchy sets were more kitschy, the crass comedy was a bit lewder, the gadgets were more ludicrous, the plot a bit too convoluted, etc. It was all in the traditional spirit of attempting to evoke comedy by blowing the parodied material out of proportion.
As a matter of fact, the film had everything going for it. Because it was fundamentally rooted in the pre-existing material, it was bound to remain at least somewhat familiar in spite of all comic modifications. And to top it all off, the project attracted a host of high-calibre names to star in it, such as David Niven as Bond, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, Jean-Paul Belmondo and John Huston, who also co-directed the film (together with five other people). Suffice it to say, Casino Royale was stacked with odds heavily in its favour.
And it shat the bed. Big time.
Even though the box office take would lead one to believe the film was a success, it was predominantly – if not solely – a result of the ‘James Bond effect’ where audiences flocked to see Casino Royale empowered by well-described expectations. They thought they were signing up for a high-octane romp (and bear in mind that critics were not allowed to watch it early to supply reviews to the press), but what they ended up getting was a ludicrously indulgent tonal mishmash closer in spirit to The Pink Panther, Monty Python productions, or the Jacques Tati/Richard Lester kind of comedies. But that wouldn’t be a problem if the film executed on what it trying to achieve; which it did not. Had Casino Royale fired on all cylinders all throughout its excessive 130 minutes of running time and delivered an out-and-out rollercoaster of hilarity, it would have been a success. Sadly, the film is not funny at all. In fact, it is tedious and embarrassingly unsuccessful in deriving comedy from material that simply asks to be mocked!
As a result, it is almost impossible to sit through this film. For all intents and purposes, it is a glorified steaming mess that rightly ended up forgotten and swept under the rug. Granted, it likely has a small circle of enthusiasts who resonate at the same frequencies, but I most certainly don’t belong in this club. I’d rather watch Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery or any of its sequels instead, because it seems Mike Myers and Jay Roach had a better grasp on how James Bond should be parodied effectively. And ironically enough, some specific nods would indicate (such as hiring Burt Bacharach who scored Casino Royale), they were openly mocking this film in addition to the canonical James Bond series.
There’s almost nothing positive to be said about this film. It is a boring exercise in disappointment and a true test of a viewer’s focus, especially in an age where it’s so damn easy to do anything else while a film is playing in the background. Quite frankly, your time would probably be better spent scrolling through social media or window-shopping on Amazon instead of trying to pay attention to the 1967 Casino Royale, a criminally unfunny and overwhelmingly self-indulgent waste of time, money, and talent.