The late Gene Siskel had a famous litmus test for star-studded movies: Is the film more interesting than a documentary of its actors having lunch together would be? It's safe to assume that a filmed nosh shared by the cast of 1967's Casino Royale—David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, William Holden, Jean-Paul Belmondo, John Huston, and Deborah Kerr, just for starters—would be one of the most fascinating documentaries ever made, especially since Welles and Sellers likely couldn't have had lunch together without a fistfight breaking out. It'd certainly be more interesting than the film. For his deliriously excessive James Bond spoof, producer Charles K. Feldman bought a gaudy abundance of high-priced stars and some of the world's most expensive sets, but he couldn't buy quality, laughs, or cohesion.
The product of five credited directors, three credited screenwriters, and a vast army of script doctors, Casino Royale casts Niven as a retired Victorian version of Ian Fleming's legendary super-spy, a consummate gentleman who just wants to be left alone so he can listen to Debussy in peace. Nonetheless, he's called back into action to thwart a sinister plan perpetuated by an evil organization named SMERSH. To help achieve his ends, Niven commissions a battery of bogus 007s to fake the enemy out, most notably a bumbling Baccarat expert played by an uncomfortably restrained Peter Sellers, who helped sabotage an already-unwieldy, schizophrenic, elephantine production with his diva antics.
Great care and attention has been given to nearly every element of the film, from the opulent production and costume design to Burt Bacharach's jaunty score and Oscar-nominated hit "The Look Of Love," but the script and plot both feel like hasty afterthoughts. As such, the ridiculous parade of explosions, slapstick chases, sexy women, huge stars in bit parts, and towering sets don't make the movie any funnier. Casino Royale offers plenty for the eyes and ears, but little for the funnybone. It fails Siskel's famous litmus test, as well as a more common one for comedies: Is it funny?
Key features: The Making Of Casino Royale, a fascinating, candid five-part behind-the-scenes documentary, and a less-riveting but fairly compelling audio commentary from James Bond scholars Steven Jay Rubin and John Cork.