The Bourne Identity

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Those who had been backing Doug Liman as a vital new maverick director (Swingers, Go) will have their work cut out for them on this one, a middle-of-the-road adaptation of the Robert Ludlum best-seller about an amnesiac spy, previously made as a two-part TV miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith. Granted, Liman's cast has strong roots in the independent cinema: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen, Julia Stiles. But that only accentuates the scent of the social climber: the "independent" who's looking for a hook-up. For all its démodé denigration of the CIA as a band of dirty tricksters, the plotline is very much an ode to the superspy: far more Bond than Smiley. The hero doesn't know he's one of those, nor even know his own name, after he's hauled out of the Mediterranean by subtitle-speaking fishermen, with two slugs in his back and a Swiss bank code implanted in his hip. His training, however, comes out in a twinkling whenever he needs it: one-man-army karate, human-fly climbing, Grand Prix driving, fluency in any language under the sun. He can even do a spot of women's hairstyling for purposes of altering appearance. And the need arises often, because there's an army of assassins on his tail, for reasons unknown, or anyway unremembered. Watching him extricate himself from one tight spot after another, you have to wonder how he ever managed to drop his guard long enough to get two bullets in the back and lose his memory. The answer, when finally it comes to him in flashback, reveals an incongruously, and laughably, soft heart. At that point, you have to wonder how he ever got the assignment to begin with. To give Liman his due, this is slick, sleek, fast entertainment, and he therewith demonstrates that he's up to the task of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking -- if "up" is indeed the correct location of it. (2002) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated PG-13

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