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Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini,
When long-time British agent Harry Palmer loses his job because the Cold War is over, he's promptly approached by a Russian bossman, Alex. In St. Petersburg Alex tells Harry of his plan for Russia's future, which is threatened because a deadly biochemical weapon called the Red Death has been stolen from him. He'll pay Harry handsomely to retrieve it. An ex-spy friend tips Harry off that it's being sent to Beijing by train, aboard which we begin to learn whose side everyone's really on. Written by
After almost thirty years, Michael Caine is back playing Harry Palmer. However, it has been THIRTY YEARS--and, like the expression goes, you can never go back--and that certainly is true of "Bullet to Beijing". Unlike the earlier Palmer stories, Len Deighton was not involved with this one...and I think it shows. The first three films of the series ("The Ipcress File", "Funeral in Berlin" and "Billion Dollar Brain") were great--a nice alternative to a Bond film. Here, however, it looks like there is a lot more Bond and a lot less Harry Palmer.
After three decades with the British secret service, Palmer is summarily retired without so much as a thank you. Soon, he receives an offer to work for someone else--though they don't identify who they are--they just give him a ticket to meet them in Russia. Harry takes the offer (why?) and soon is transported into a world completely unlike his earlier film efforts. Here is the problem--the film is again and again an ACTION film. But the earlier films deliberately avoided being action films. Sure, things happened--but most of the time Palmer stood by on the sidelines. And, there were none of the usual insane James Bond miraculous escapes. Here in "Bullet to Beijing", it's one action sequence after another after another--including way too many shootouts that resulted in folks with pistols taking out many folks with machine guns!!! Now I know a marksman can do amazing things with a pistol--but to again and again take out baddies with automatic weapons?! And, the other major problem is that folks keep changing sides!! Again and again, you need a scorecard to keep track of who is one who's side! To me, this just seemed sloppy. The overall effort is a passable ACTION film but one severely disappointing to those expecting the Harry Palmer of old. It's made worse by the end, where, inexplicably, the baddies just let Palmer go after he destroys their evil plan!!! Uggh.
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