Spy film lacking in chemistry, originality

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Spy film lacking in chemistry, originality

“The Bourne Identity” brought new life to the entire spy genre.
An abandoned hitman wakes up with amnesia and must piece his life back together ― the premise was a little soap opera, but Matt Damon turned Jason Bourne into a real, breathing person, yearning for his life back but always on a hair trigger, nearly unable to control his own impulse to kill.
And “The Bourne Supremacy,” the sequel, was if anything better than the original, starting with the shattering of the first film’s happy ending and catapulting through twists and betrayals galore.
For that much credit must go to Paul Greengrass, whose credits include “Bloody Sunday” and by far the best movie yet to be made about Sept. 11, 2001 ― “United 93.”
Like Steven Soderbergh directing an “Ocean’s” movie, Greengrass was able to let go of his docudrama caution about facts and eyewitnesses and focus on telling a really sweet spy story, with scowling villains, plot reversals and big explosions.
The impact of these two films on the genre standard bearer, James Bond, is undeniable.
The restart of the series, “Casino Royale,” with its shifting loyalties and tear-soaked soldier-hero, was a huge departure from Bond’s typical commitment to sexy gals and outrageous gadgets.
The source of Bond’s sudden concern with love and morality can only be Bourne.
Never before has 007 let himself be dictated to so closely.
Yet for the (presumably) final film in the series, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Greengrass has let his frizzy, graying locks down a bit too far.
The end result has more in common with the pre-Casino Royale Bond than with its cool, character-driven forbears.
The idea seems to be: show some more blurry flashbacks, chuck some more assassins into a few more world locales, fling around more bullets than an office memo and watch the dough roll in.
Of course, this strategy has already worked (one of the discouraging parts of writing reviews for the international market), but that doesn’t change the fact that, despite Greengrass’s signature handheld technique and some well-choreographed fight scenes, Ultimatum is simply not very good.
The film opens with Bourne in Russia, conducting reconnaissance (i.e. beating people up).
This scene seems to have very little to do with the rest of the movie, it’s just there to start us off with a bang (if this tactic seems familiar, that’s because it’s also used in nearly every Bond movie ever made).
Meanwhile, in London a reporter (Paddy Considine) has uncovered the tip of an iceberg that reaches deep into the CIA and connects to Project Treadstone, which created Bourne.
But meeting with Bourne leads to the reporter’s death, and puts the renegade spy back on the trail of the heartless bureaucrats who created him.
Later it turns out that Treadstone has slowly taken over the Agency’s operations division, much to the chagrin of the last movie’s baddie, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen).
But it’s very difficult to care, since laughably little time is actually spent on the intrigue in favor of more Bourne-delivered beatdowns.
In the end, of course, Bourne regains his memory, makes it back to the Treadstone training site and is reunited with his evil genius creator (Albert Finney).
When all the shaky flashbacks and angst-ridden scowls were over, I found myself unsatisfied.
After all, this ending was completely inevitable.
In sharp contrast with “The Bourne Supremacy,” nothing new or unexpected is revealed in “Ultimatum.”
Greengrass could have improved his conclusion through drama, as the chemistry in this film is as inert as the inside of a lightbulb.
A few flashback scenes of blurry voice-over and Bourne being waterboarded don’t qualify.
We can forgive the absurd idea that one man can overpower the United States government time and time again because this is an action fantasy.
But Bourne’s backstory ― considering the real history of the CIA ― is downright plausible.
In fact, it fits in almost too well.

The Bourne Ultimatum
Action / English
115 min.
Now playing

By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [bapplegate@gmail.com]
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