Wednesday, September 11, 2002

"The Bourne Identity" (12A, UIP) is, quite refreshingly, NOT your typical, humdrum, headbanging Summer action flick.

If you've caught any of the omnipresent MTV ads for this Doug Liman-helmed thriller, you would be forgiven for expecting to pay your money, take your cineplex seat and then be witness to two hours of glibly-rendered bonecrunching thuggery, a couple of property-trashing explosive fireballs and all manner of ear-bendingly loud mayhem.

Another volley from leftfield: Matt Damon is - Egad! - your leading man and Designated Action Hero. I don't think any of us were expecting that.

The soundtrack will feature, no doubt, the record label's current stable of earnest young things with intriguing piercings and overworked sequencers. You possibly think that you have this movie's number and are, even now, preparing a list of reasons why you plan on giving it the widest of possible bearths.

Satisfyingly, Liman and Damon have teamed-up to bring forth the opening salvo in what will doubtless become a series of thrillers starring Robert Ludlum's Black Ops assassin and conflicted anti-hero, Jason Bourne: Whilst this movie can't claim to be the smartest thing you'll ever see, it does have a whole truckload more character development and angst than most of its peers, which has got to count for something.

Damon plays the titular Bourne, who begins the film adrift and unconscious at sea, with two bullets in his back, the code number of a Swiss bank account embedded in his hip and possessed of the world's most inconvenient case of amnesia. Found and brought back to health by a group of benevolent French fishermen, Bourne embarks on a pan-European odyssey to regain his memory and find out why nearly everybody that he meets wants him dead (Notable exception? Franke Potente, who plays Marie, Bourne's love interest and running partner. Although, after seeing the clumsy-assed way that Damon handles the scissors when giving her a haircut, you might forgive her for wanting his head on a plate...). You might begin to intone "Sounds a bit like ' The Manchurian Candidate'?" and you would be kind of on-the-money in that assertion.

The action is brisk but never takes over the movie - There are some fine set pieces to behold, such as Bourne's to-the-death martial arts duel with a fellow killer (Jet Li would be impressed..) and the best on-screen car chase since the Nice race-off in "Ronin" - as the filmmakers have genuinely taken advantage of the fact that Matt Damon is a gifted actor and not just some schlemiel who can kick high and pose with a gun. The debit points are few - What the hell is Julia Stiles doing in this flick? She plays a CIA spook and manages to look all of fifteen years old. Not what I would call convincing casting - and scarcely stop me from heartily recommending this rather enjoyable, if ultimately fairly insubstantial night's entertainment.

Of course, my enthusiasm for this flick could be entirely due to the presence of my very lovely K., who manages to make any moviegoing experience at least ten times better than it would otherwise be....

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