Though great he may be, there is a limit to the amount of uninterrupted Burt Bacharach music one can endure. And sadly, that limit — of music punctuated by kazoos, harpischords, and accordions — is far less than 137 minutes.
There’s also a limit on the length of a spy spoof one can sit through (the second Austin Powers and Richard Grieco’s If Looks Could Kill being the few notable, yet guilty, exceptions). That limit tends to run about 58 minutes.
Peter Sellers proves he still had it in his turn as, yes, James Bond, in the one 007 spoof ever made (unless you count that unintentional farce Never Say Never Again). But the three (credited) writers and five directors turned Royale into an unmitigated mess, sometimes funny but often drier than dust, totally random, and just plain silly when it should be sophisticated.
Stealing the show is Orson Welles, playing Bond’s nemesis at the baccarat table, but unfortunately the scenes in the titular casino are far too few and far between. Most of the film involves Bond’s (David Niven) plan to create a gaggle of dummy Bonds (including the Sellers version and Woody Allen as young Jimmy Bond) in order to throw the real enemy, SMERSH’s mysterious Dr. Noah (this is funny?) off the scent.
Hours later, we’re treated to a funny, yet long overdue ending. With a little more forethought and discipline in the editing process, Royale might have lent itself to an amusing tale. Instead we’ve got questionable comedy that doesn’t even measure up to the jokes already present in the Bond series. Note to filmmakers: If you want to spoof something, at least make sure you’re outdoing your source material on the comedy front.
The DVD features a rarely-seen early version of Casino Royale, a grainy, hour-long TV movie shot in the ’50s and starring Peter Lorre in the Welles role. It’s actually not bad and is worth a look for anyone really interested in checking out a more faithful version of the Bond tale.
Review by Christopher Null © 2002 filmcritic.com