Ever since Daniel Craig’s less than effusive publicity tour for “SPECTRE”, speculation has been rife as to who the next Bond will be. The pretenders to the throne have likewise wasted no time in setting out their stalls with ‘auditions’ of their own. Runner up to the role last time Henry Cavill gave us a look at his ‘cool spy’ shtick in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” while Tom Hiddleston stated his claim with a languid but effective six part pitch in the BBC’s “The Night Manager”. And now it’s Elba’s turn to show he can deliver the 007 goods with “Bastille Day”. Unfortunately, as far as being a vehicle for his talents, it’s about as effective as a clapped out Citroën.
When a pickpocket inadvertently steals and discards a bag containing a bomb, the resultant detonation puts him in the frame for an act of terrorism. When the terrorists threaten further bombings, the race is on between the French authorities and – for some reason – the CIA to track down the bomber. However, the bomb was just the first part in a sinister false flag operation which may go all the way to the top of the French Government.
Were no actual Americans available for this movie? The Paris branch of the CIA seems to be entirely staffed by British actors affecting accents of variable success for no real reason. Even the token American civilian involved is played by a British actor so why not just make it the British Secret Service instead of the CIA?
The story has the feel of something which started out life as a gritty and down to earth drama about racial and religious tension being manipulated for a dark agenda in the City Of Lights before being retooled for a shot at ‘international appeal’. For a few precious minutes the film actually seems to be something a bit different, a bit edgier than your usual action fare until it’s brutally gunned down in a barrage of cliché and poorly edited action. Instead of going directly for the cultural jugular and examining the raw divides of a city struggling with cultural and political tensions against a backdrop of Machiavellian terror and manipulation, the whole sorry mess dissolves into a cheap Eurotrash knock-off of “Die Hard With A Vengeance” where every single twist is predictable. The bad guys, led by Thierry Goddard (who seems to be channelling a grumpy Noel Edmonds) are so inept that they would have Hans and Simon Gruber summarily executing their recruitment consultant, that is if they weren’t already on the phone to their copyright lawyers.
Some of the sequences (which have been expertly cut to look cool in the trailer) are the dullest we have seen in an action movie in some time. The rooftop chase is – for the most part – slow and desperately pedestrian while the scene in the van where our heroes have been captured features the longest and least subtle scene of characters exchanging meaningful glances since Luke and Lando took an age to get things going above the Sarlaac Pit in “Return Of The Jedi”.
Most of the British cast looked reluctant to be there – Kelly Reilly looks exhausted and may have actually just flown in to Paris on the red eye to film her scenes in one day before getting back home as quickly as possible. Richard Madden mopes his way through film without every really finding the right chemistry with Idris Elba to make it work as a buddy movie and Elba ends up being the only thing that makes this the least bit watchable. You can’t help but feel that some of his earnest thousand-yard stares were him actually contemplating sacking his agent. Put simply, he has far too much screen presence and gravitas for a role and movie which needed more of a Statham-phoning-it-in level of performance.
A dull, derivative and uninspired action misfire, shot by Director James Watkins in a way which manages to make Paris look like the ugliest city in the world, “Bastille Day” had the opportunity to be a searingly topical, hard-hitting thriller cutting right to the heart of the current geopolitical zeitgeist but instead manages to aim right for the heart of the straight-to-DVD bargain bin. London may have fallen, but Paris landed in the garbage.