Thrill ride is 'Bourne' again

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Jason Bourne's fans will have no trouble remembering who he is, even if he can't.

Seamlessly picking up the tale of the amnesiac assassin from 2002's hit "The Bourne Identity," the sequel overcomes a couple of distracting flaws to deliver another solid thrill ride.

Like the first movie, "The Bourne Supremacy" has smarts and class lacking in most summer thrillers, where the action often amounts to mere fisticuffs and car chases crammed between flimsy exchanges of dialogue.

Here, the action complements the bigger drama, erupting genuinely as Matt Damon's Jason Bourne reacts by instinct to each contingency. Bourne is like a prowling predator, never at rest even when he's still, his body intuitively tuned to attack when it's to his advantage and flee when his survival is at stake.

Director Paul Greengrass takes over from Doug Liman, who made the first movie and remains an executive producer on the sequel. Greengrass applies similar fly-on-the-wall film methods used in his terrific 2002 docudrama "Bloody Sunday," relying heavily on handheld cameras nervously flitting, always in motion.

He calls the result "unconsidered," a style in which the lens is as much in the dark about where the next punch or kick or bullet will come from as the audience.

The approach adds urgency to many scenes, but it also undermines some moments, particularly fight sequences. Bourne's close-quarters battles clearly are well-choreographed, yet much of the action is obscured by the herky-jerky movements of the camera trying to keep up.

The plot is a bit muddy, too. Greengrass' taut pacing generally compensates for ill-defined motives of the villains pulling Bourne's strings.

Screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who co-wrote the first movie from Robert Ludlum's thriller, this time creates a story bearing almost no relation to Ludlum's sequel, which had Bourne pressed back into service to chase down an impersonator whose assassinations threatened political chaos in China.

The film has Bourne still on the run from his old CIA handlers and haunted by fleeting images from his shattered memory as he and Marie (Franka Potente), the muse and emotional anchor he found in the first movie, hide out in India.

A shadowy Russian oil tycoon has framed Bourne for the deaths of two American agents, prompting CIA honcho Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) to hunt down Bourne. Meantime, a hit man (Karl Urban) tries to kill him, the resulting tragedy sending Bourne on a mission that's part revenge, part redemption.

Returning from the first film are Brian Cox as shady spymaster Ward Abbott, Julia Stiles as greenhorn agent liaison Nicky and Gabriel Mann as agent Danny Zorn. Chris Cooper, the heavy of "The Bourne Identity," appears briefly in flashbacks.

The entire cast is tremendous, from Damon down to bit players. An ominously brooding presence, Damon has long stretches with no dialogue, yet even in loner mode, his twitchy expressions and body language convey broad emotion.

The filmmakers have concocted clever found-object solutions to get Bourne out of tight spots, bolstering the character's credibility as a man up to any challenge.

Allen brings steely grace to the movie, and Stiles subtly presents a character evolving from the naivete of the first film to the cynicism of someone who's heard a lot of bull in the intervening two years. Stiles also provides one of the film's most emotionally gripping scenes in an exchange with Bourne.

Potente's Marie radiates endearing good will and affection, and Greengrass crafts one of his most artful, though tragic, images around the character.

This may be the end of Damon's Bourne saga, but the film signals good things to come from Greengrass.

"The Bourne Supremacy," a Universal release, is rated PG-13 for violence and intense action and for brief language. Running time: 108 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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