The Bourne Identity

on June 14, 2002 by Christine James
   An amnesiac who turns out to be a fry cook: Not too interesting. An amnesiac with Swiss bank account information surgically implanted into his body, fluency in multiple languages, lightning reflexes, a photographic memory, near-superhero powers and strong-jawed good looks: Irresistible. "The Bourne Identity," based on the 1980 Robert Ludlum spy thriller novel, stars Matt Damon as Jason Bourne--or, quite possibly, as John Michael Kane or a half-dozen other aliases he apparently went by before getting shot and thrown into the ocean, left for dead. Fortunately for him, he's rescued by a fishing boat staffed with a kindly doctor, whose grime and swarthiness belie a surprising competence. While removing the bullets from his unconscious patient, the seafaring surgeon also extracts a capsule that, when activated, projects the details of a safety deposit box in Zurich. Upon recovering, our memory-impaired hero treks to the box in search of clues to his identity, learning along the way that, whoever he is, he possesses deadly instincts and killer moves. After successfully gaining entr‚e to his vaulted possessions, he is more confused than ever, finding tens of thousands of dollars; a gun; and six passports from different countries, each with a different name but all with his picture.

   Before he has time to piece things together, his unknown enemy--actually the top-secret branch of the CIA that trained him as an assassin--has tracked him down and attempts to take him out. Bourne's abilities kick in, as he calmly, coolly and mathematically makes his escape from a high-security building packed with weapon-toting authorities. Bribing a bystander ("Run Lola Run's" Franka Potente) with a wad of cash to drive him to Paris (the home of at least one of his alter egos), he embarks on a high-octane quest to find himself before his nemeses do.

   Bourne nonchalantly, dexterously, poetically and lethally executes his espionage expertise against his pursuers--to the point where you expect Bionic Man sound effects to accompany his every move--leaving a "trail of collateral damage from Zurich to Paris," as one CIA commander with his ass on the line vehemently sputters. While that's the fun of it, therein also lies the problem: As one fellow journalist at the press screening put it, "It's like pitting a chess master against someone who's really good at checkers." The CIA--the mentor to the student, as it were--never sufficiently rises to the occasion to match wits and skills on the same superhuman level, instead sending in solo operatives who get taken out as inevitably as B-movie ninjas that insist on attacking one at a time instead of all together. The climax lacks the punch and satisfaction it could have delivered in a true clash of the titans. Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper and Clive Owen. Directed by Doug Liman. Written by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron. Produced by Doug Liman, Patrick Crowley and Richard N. Gladstein. A Universal release. Action/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence and some language. Running time: 118 min

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