'Quantum' delivers solid entertainment

"Quantum of Solace" is an interesting if not enigmatic title, meaning small increments of consolation for an abiding grief. And grief is clearly what impels this James Bond film forward, yet it is revenge that binds it together.

To understand the source of 007's burning rage, it is almost imperative to watch "Casino Royale." "Quantum" is to be sure a tightly spaced sequel, picking up almost to the moment where "Royale" left off.

In this latest installment of the 007 franchise — there have been 22 films over 46 years — Bond (Daniel Craig) is on the verge of going rogue in his quest to find those he holds responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). As a character he is remote, never flip or casual or prone to moments of humor.

In fact, the signature introduction of "Bond, James Bond" is absent entirely from "Quantum." As are all of the high-tech gadgets that have been part of any Bond prologue: a car (Aston Martin; BMW) fully loaded with bulletproof everything, sprays bullets and oil, and offers as a standard feature an ejection seat; the watch (Omega) that does far more than tell time; a fountain pen that also is a mini-rocket, cell phone and GPS device.

Instead "Quantum" moves inextricably away from the previous Bonds made so indelible by Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, those purveyors of suave who often resembled Monte Carlo playboys with a license to kill. Actually, when Craig was chosen as the next Bond, and compared to Brosnan, he seemed far less polished and sophisticated, carved out of hard oak instead of polished marble.

As it turns out, he has proven to be perfectly cast as the 007 who travels not just on the surface but also within, brooding, encased in armor. It makes for an interesting combination of sadness, introspection and lethality; it's a duality that Bond finds hard to cope with, given his particular line of work.

"Quantum" does have a plot — not absolutely essential for the enjoyment of a Bond movie — which has to do with a worldwide consortium that is buying up the Third World's potable water rights. The intent is to hold countries hostage unless they pay dearly for this precious natural resource, which, unlike oil, is necessary for life. Of course, these are people who will stop at nothing to get what they want and it's up to Bond to make sure they don't. And therein is the fun.

It's a given that there is a Bond girl in a Bond film. In "Quantum" her name is Camille (Olga Kurykenko) and she proves to be a partner in the quest instead of a conquest. The villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), is, of course, suitably slimy, remorseless and driven by the need to amass power and money. There is irony in his name for his goal is to pillage the planet for profit and being green, so to speak, is simply part of his cover. His last name should really be Brown.

This latest 007 installment doesn't disappoint. No matter that the narrative dances along on the surface. In truth, this film seems more a character study of a man deeply conflicted regarding his purpose and his emotions than simply a story about getting into and out of very tight corners. A Bond film as a character study? Seems an oxymoron; however, it does have that feel.

Though it seems counterintuitive, an introspective Bond is actually more interesting than the glib (is shallow too harsh?) 007s who came before. Hopefully, for as long as Craig portrays his Majesty's agent, he will grow even more brooding and reflective and the screenplays will touch on the conflicting depersonalization that grips him as he goes about protecting Queen and country. This shift, however, doesn't mean that Craig's Bond isn't appropriately anarchic. He is.

Indeed, going rogue, free of the constraints of the Service and M is a large part of his appeal. But then characters who function outside the strictures of society, flaunt authority, and find redemption in results have always been enormously attractive to movie-going audiences.

To be sure, character-driven isn't the reason audiences buy tickets for this franchise. It's for the immensely sleek and breathtaking action scenes that are, as was "Casino," front-loaded in spades. From the opening set-up of "Quantum," featuring a harrowing car chase, to the explosive climax, Bond, James Bond, once again delivers a solid piece of entertainment. Know, of course, that there is no solace.

Role Models

Rather than review the recently released film "Role Models," offered up by the studio as a solid comedy, it might be more interesting to speculate on the type of movie it represents.

Films of this ilk have appeared over the last several years with essentially the same focus: twenty-somethings who are trying to make their way in the world. Or, more accurately, hanging out, some working marginal jobs, most waiting for the world to come to them, meaning a high-paying, undemanding job and women, lots of women. As portrayed in these films, it quickly becomes clear that all they know about life and women is hearsay or skimmed from the Internet. Theirs is a narrow existence.

In "Knocked Up," for example, they huddled together in a suburban rental house, call it Slacker Central, spending their days on a massive sofa cuddling their bong pipes and arguing about the best ways to hit on women. Their precursors appeared in "Superbad," a film about gnarly, geeky high school boys who existed on the fringe of their school's social life but who had rich fantasy lives that they shared with one another in great detail and rarely touched on reality.

In these films, the characters seem poised to follow a path that will take them into lives of quiet desperation, ending up collecting first-issue comic books, baseball cards, or still-sealed-in-the-box Transformers and Jedi Knights that they'll sell on eBay. Emotionally, they seem disabled, unwilling or unable to move forward. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is a case in point as is "Failure to Launch."

Consider the recent film, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." Zack is the quintessential slacker facing the dilemma of needing rent and grocery money, wondering what to do with the 10-year high school reunion invitation that just arrived in the mail. Meanwhile, the lights and gas have been turned off and so has the phone. Having displayed no desire to work at a serious job, he decides that he and his roommate, Miri, could hustle some quick coin by making a porno to be distributed on the Internet.

In a recently published book, "Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity," Gary Cross, a professor at Penn State, discusses the current generation of young men compared with those of post-World War II, concluding that this contemporary group takes far longer to find employment, marry and begin a family. In other words, they are reluctant to grow up. Instead, these arrested development men to boys hang out with others of their type, play endless video games, discuss their cul-de-sac futures, all to no serious purpose. Many, Cross says, don't even have girlfriends, more comfortable plotting brief "hook-ups" than lasting relationships that are demanding, requiring commitment. Cross' profile sounds like a solid slice of "Knocked Up."

The question is, do these men to boys make interesting characters in films? Do they have anything interesting to say? Are their lives compelling enough to ask the audience to watch as they indulge themselves in rants about life and women while soothing their existential angst with a hit or two or three of dope or alcohol? Are the two buddies in "Role Models," Wheeler (Seann Williams Scott) and Danny (Paul Rudd), worth spending two hours with? It's passed off as comedic entertainment when in truth it is the antithesis, growing quickly sad and boring, a response that mirrors their lives.

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