Octopussy (1983) has a few interesting set–pieces but little else to keep our interest. It tells a convoluted story that is somehow too formulaic and too ridiculous all at once and it tells it with little energy. At the center of it is a James Bond (Roger Moore) who is trading too heavily on the pre-established mythology of the character more than anything he brings to the table this time around. Suffice it to say, if Octopussy were the first entry in the franchise and not the 13th, we probably wouldn’t have Bond movies anymore.
The story involves jewelry smugglers, renegade Soviet generals and the circus. There are at least two pairs of twin assassins who wear matching outfits, one pair of which look like Dr. Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two, and yet, it’s told with all the cheek of a funeral. The death of an agent on a mission gets Commander James Bond 007 assigned. It seems that Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) has been working with the Russians to smuggle priceless artifacts from the East to the West with Khan creating perfect forgeries of them as replacements. To smuggle the valuables, Khan is using the sexy Octopussy (Maud Adams), the wealthy owner of a traveling circus, to transport the stuff. The haywire General Orlov (Steven Berkoff) is fed up with the old guard in Moscow, which favors appeasement, and he lusts to expand Russia’s borders. He’s surreptitiously replacing Khan’s valuables with a nuclear warhead that he plans to detonate on an American military base in West Germany.
The explosion will be taken as a costly accident, an American bomb mistakenly gone awry, and the European powers will push for massive disarmament, making Russia’s neighbors vulnerable to invasion. Besides this plan being terribly presumptuous, what Fabergé eggs have to do with nuclear warheads I do not know, and I just watched the damn movie. Bond follows the action from India to East Germany to the U.S. base and into Octopussy’s arms (despite her name, she has only two of them). Each episode has a little less steam than the previous one until Bond arrives at the military base disguised in clown makeup and the air has gone completely out of the balloon. It’s hard to imagine Sean Connery as a clown.
Moore has long been the funniest Bond, and often his willingness to poke fun at the secret agent’s image is part of his charm, but here it’s so lame-brained and uninspired it simply seems sad. John Glen, who directs, has a knack for excellent action scenes that blend excitement with humor, but he is less deft at lighter material when the guns aren’t firing. His best Bond pictures are less outrageous, such as For Your Eyes Only (1981) and The Living Daylights (1987), which have straightforward and serious stories. With bloated extravaganzas such as A View To A Kill (1985) and Octopussy, it’s as if he’s lost (A View To A Kill is a little better). It’s an interesting paradox; Glen is a man who can infuse the chase and action scenes with endless visual puns and invention, but when it’s written in the script, he shoots them without an ounce of levity. Octopussy is made up of a half dozen set-pieces of dazzling excitement surrounding exposition in which spies, smugglers and generals sound as if they are discussing life insurance.
Each of the action moments comes with a bevy of interesting flourishes, not the least of which is an engaging if politically incorrect chase through the streets of India where Bond can use the paraphernalia of the various stereotypical snake charmers, swordswallowers and fire jugglers as weapons. In another, the tires of Bond’s car are blown away and he makes lemonade by lining the bald wheels onto train tracks to elude his pursuers. In a raid on a palace, Bond slides down a stair rail, mowing down baddies with a machine gun until he realizes that there’s a baluster at the end with a nasty ornament that is on a collision course with his groin. This makes him shift his attention to shooting that piece to smithereens, lest it damage his favorite part of his anatomy.
This whole raid, complete with elephants, bikini assassins and hot air balloons, is a vision of high camp, but the rest of the movie isn’t instilled with a fraction of the energy. Jourdan makes for a slimy enough villain, and Berkoff gives the impression of zany madness just beneath the surface, but neither is given the green light to go over the top. Adams is personally appealing, but her character is being so idiotically duped and for no strong purpose that she fails to make much of an impression. As for Moore, he just seems tired. We understand.