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BOND UNBOUND

On the western shore of Lake Garda there's a highway where no highway has a right to be. It's been tunneled into the cliffs that beetle right down to the water's edge, but being in Italy, it has a lovely arcade that lets you look out at the lake.

This is where the 22nd James Bond film opens, with the traditional nerve-grinding chase scene, so you don't get to see much of the scenery because of the crashing vehicles.

“Quantum of Solace” picks up where the 21st Bond movie, “Casino Royale,” left off. I'm betting you have as much of a memory of “Casino Royale” as I do, which is a vague sense of some super stunts and some great locations, with Daniel Craig as a perfectly presentable 007, though without Sean Connery's twinkle.

The locations keep coming, because the villains with the automatic weapons have enough ammo to keep shooting at Bond's Aston Martin all the way from Riva del Garda to the marble quarry at Carrara, which is about 120 miles; don't they ever stop for bathroom breaks?

After the bad guys drive over a beautiful marble cliff, Bond can take his time getting to Siena, another 70 or so miles, to deliver his prisoner, Mr. White, who's been bleeding in the Aston's trunk (sorry, boot), to Agent M, the ever-welcome Judi Dench.

It's a good thing that MI6's hideout is in a tunnel under the town, because Bond has arrived during the Palio, the medieval-costumed horse race that proves that the Sienese are all lunatics; there are enough shots of the race to give you an idea.

When one of M's staff proves to be a member of Quantum, a misty secret society of villains, and helps White escape, we're led into a twisty plot where things only connect in retrospect. That's one of the problems with “Quantum of Solace” (apart from wondering what the title means): the story has too many “Hunh?” moments and not enough “Ahah!” moments.

The other problem is that James Bond is reduced to a murdering automaton. M spends much of the movie trying to defuse Bond and bring him in for an unwind, because he's become a liability, an agent who's out for revenge and has lost his sense of humor.

That sounds like a flippant comment, but think about it: in days of yore Bond was a suave connoisseur of tailors, machinery, liquor and dames, who never shot an opponent until he had traded a few witty quips and finished his martini. That was his attraction to those of us who were adolescents in those yoreish days: he was just so COOL.

Craig as Bond could be cool, but he's never given the chance. Though he looks perfectly fine in the tuxedo he steals from a musician's locker at the opera, he doesn't really CARE about the tailoring; he'd probably be just as happy in a sloppily-draped toga, which is what some of his other costumes resemble.

Which brings us back to the plot, which is a story line on which to hang locations.

Mathieu Amalric plays Dominic Greene, which is a really lame name for a Bond villain unless you factor in the point the he's an environmental villain, in which case it somehow seems even lamer. Greene is a big noise in the Quantum organization, which is trying to control the world's most precious commodity, which in this case is not oil but water.

Bond has an unwilling sidekick, an independent Bolivian agent named Camille (what?) who is out after her own revenge against the guy that Greene is about to make president of Bolivia. Camille is played by Olga Kurylenko with a combination of sang-froid and professional priggishness that brings us a new low in body heat between Bond and his leading lady.

(There is a brief appearance by a comely M16 agent named Strawberry Fields – though she never mentions her you've-got-to-be-kidding first name – which leads to a brief scene where Bond blows on her spine, followed by a brief homage to “Goldfinger” except the corpse is black from oil instead of gold from gold, and don't ask. Just don't.)

I was mildly encouraged by “Casino Royale” - Daniel Craig is a very good actor who, given a chance, could revive interest in a moribund franchise. But here in his second outing he's stuck portraying an action hero, a taciturn brute instead of the cool, witty, unflappable sophisticate we all remember and love. If this is the Bond for the 21st century, young audiences are going to miss out on a lot of fun.