- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

Doug Liman doesn't seem to risk anything by remaking "The Bourne Identity," a 1980 espionage novel by the late Robert Ludlum that meandered onto television as a two-evening sleeping potion co-starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith in 1988.
If nothing else, Mr. Liman's version demonstrates that a snappier adaptation was always feasible, provided the plot was streamlined.
A chilly-picturesque look enhances the movie. It begins on a storm-tossed Mediterranean Sea and is sustained through wintry episodes in Marseilles, France; Zurich (doubled by the ubiquitous Prague); Paris; and a French countryside borrowed from the Czech Republic.
A man is discovered at sea with two bullet holes in his back but survives as an amnesiac, unable to explain his fluency in several languages, his martial-arts prowess or a hip implant that conceals the number of a Swiss bank account.
Obviously lucky to be alive, this castaway is portrayed by Matt Damon, far from a perfect choice in the deadly-man-of-mystery division. The shortcomings are driven home when Clive Owen (of "Croupier") turns up in a minor role as an adversary.
Mr. Damon's character, nursed back to health by the skipper of an Italian trawler, seems to have a knot-tying flair.
The melodramatic knots remain tangled enjoyably through the Zurich stopover, when Mr. Damon gets to examine the contents of his safe-deposit box a stack of passports from different countries, a goodly selection of currency and an automatic. One of the passports provides him with the name Jason Bourne. However, he also becomes a moving target for numerous law enforcement agencies and lurking assassins.
The most dynamic assassin crashes through the window of Bourne's enviable Paris apartment, which Mr. Damon's character barely has had time to inspect. He doesn't even get to use the big skillets in the kitchen that look like such promising domestic weapons. Having failed to accomplish a mission of murder after hand-to-hand dueling, the intruder trumps his entrance with a window-shattering exit.
Mr. Damon's character has reached Paris by hiring an impromptu chauffeur in Zurich, German actress Franka Potente as a footloose companion named Marie Kreutz. Marie is strapped for money but game for intrigue and car chases.
Miss Potente, who became a cult star with art-house audiences in "Run, Lola, Run," emerges as the most conspicuous asset of "The Bourne Identity." The camera grows more and more infatuated with her, and Marie's combination of opportunism and tenderness is the movie's nearest approximation of reliable human interest.
In fact, Mr. Damon's most effective moments of physicality are not so much the fight scenes as interludes of hair washing and hair cutting with Miss Potente as his languorous customer. The guy seems to know cuts as well as knots.
Arriving on the heels of "The Sum of All Fears" and "Bad Company," the remake of "The Bourne Identity" is stuck in the cliches of two decades ago, when thinking the worst of American agents or even American self-interest was considered a desirable outlook.
The CIA is revealed fairly early as the home office for Jason Bourne. As the responsible bureaucrat, actor Chris Cooper skulks around looking wretched and despotic. He gets to utter such awesome commands as, "I want Bourne in a body bag by sundown."
Actress Julia Stiles appears to be manipulating the Paris field office of Treadstone single-handedly. Budget cuts, perhaps? Too bad Bourne couldn't bribe her with some of the excess cash he lugs around in a red rucksack. In fact, the most heart-stopping moment in the film occurs when Bourne loses his grip on the bag and you fear that this international nest egg might be lost.

*1/2
TITLE: "The Bourne Identity"
RATING: PG-13 (Sustained ominous atmosphere; occasional profanity and graphic violence)
CREDITS: Directed by Doug Liman. Screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum.
RUNNING TIME: About 110 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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