Bourne Identity, The (2002)

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/19/02 06:57:56

"This Boring Identity could use a little 'Os' to wake it up"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

This far fetched gorilla creature feature is a not so clever, by the book, action thriller about as original as Daniel Steele’s 15th novel. But that is not why you and millions others went to see it over the weekend. You went to see it because at 22 and 47 minutes into the film you’d get a little jolt. I timed it … 3… 2… 1… and right on the cue, the Universal publicist screamed and jumped triggering a similar response for the nervous execs that are wondering “will it make 100 billion worldwide gross?”

After some begging and pleading, I got into a screening of the film for mostly Universal folks and their interested parties. It is a film like this that supports the economy of Los Angeles – a frighteningly tight one-industry economy. So that puts me in a conundrum. Do I tell you the film is a crap ass formulaic corporate action film and watch half of LA starve when the barrel bottoms out? Or do I say, “hey, I want Matt Damon to make as much money as he can because I’ve got a good feeling about that guy and if there is someone who I want to have power and capital to enact his will on the world, he’s one of those people” and then just come up with something pithy like “IT’S A THRILL RIDE!”

Since the actors already got paid and I’m like, one step away from being blacklisted by the MPAA (unless some print pub wants me to do coverage for them – REAL coverage, not paid advertising), here’s the deelio. If Damon’s buffed bod is something you want to pay 8.50 to see, then RUN to the nearest megaplex. In a film as cheap and manipulative as the Bourne Identity, I knew at some point they would have to give us the whole package, and so precisely 38 minutes into the film, Damon does his best to do “on screen” chemistry but its so choreographed, so unnatural, I wondered how his agent ever got him cast in the role. However, he’s got a nice little ridge of muscle seperating the top of his thigh and buttocks from his well-defined abdomen and if you get turned on by Abercrombie and Fitch ads, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Bourne the super-spy is part of a super secret black ops squad of engineered warriors. But he’s lost his memory and we get a kick out of watching him discover his almost superhuman abilities. Remember when Spider-Man first noticed the sticky white stuff oozing out of him? And I don’t mean as a young teen, but AFTER he got bit and did a “whoa” kind of thing? Well that’s Jason Bourne. His instincts are finely honed as are his fighting abilities and when cornered, like an animal, he lashes out with the most spectacular, almost Matrix-like results.

And then the rest of the film proceeds as usual. You wait for the Villain, and he appears. You wait for the Battle with an enemy that is his equal and the Hero has to use his one special, unique ability to win. For Bourne, this comes out as sheer persistance. Bourne just kicks ass. But wait, he’s also the “Bad” guy, or isn’t he? Bourne’s amnesia not only helped him forget he was an assassin but we also find out that gee, the guy’s got a heart. Oh please Mister Cinematick, I can only follow punches, not moral paradoxes. If this was an attempt to deepen the charmingly shallow waters and grab our sympathy, it falls flat. I let it work because it was “supposed to” and I’m polite like that. Smile and nod, tap the tips of your fingers together in appreciation. The expected response of the Universal friends and family audience reminded me of the court of Louis the Eighteenth. Flatter the king at any cost, never point out that he’s not wearing any clothes. How precious. Bourne had reached his level of ultimate comprisability and became a liability rather than a tool. Hey, that sounds familiar!

And now, the romantic subplot. If falling for the only girl available to you on the whole planet is romance, then yeah, this one’s SMOKIN’! Oh sure, at first she’s just convenient, a random accident just when he needed an escape route. And she needs the money, so why won’t she transport him through Europe? You know how those things go. And by an even more fortunate stroke of luck, they just happen to be attracted to each other. But there’s that whole assasin thing and being followed by the CIA and she’s not sure if she can live with that as part of the deal.

So he gives her more money. Because if you throw money at a women, you know she’s yours for life. She remains remarkably untraumatized by the ordeal. She’s got her own special qualities that outfit her to be the perfect partner for Bourne, but she doesn’t have all that fancy training, she’s just a restless drifter and that somehow gives her the ability to cope with international governmental conspiracy. You can't blame Franka Potente for the role. She creates a good character without much to do.

My advice: stop drawing scenarios out of hat when filling in the blanks in Action Adventure Script X™. Roll the dice Bernie, is the romantic subplot a wife, a girlfriend or a random accident? How invested is he in her safety? Would he do anything to rescue her? Thankfully, this film didn’t involve a damsel in distress scenario. So that’s progress. But she was still the token girl.

What I want is an action adventure film with a female lead who’s not Laura Croft (I’m working on something like that right now) or one with two male leads who also happen to be lovers. Oh yeah!

Speaking of hot man on man love action - I somehow missed Clive Owen as the professor. I watched the film didn't I? Where was Clive?

Have you seen this movie before? OF COURSE YOU HAVE! AND THEN YOU WENT TO GO SEE IT AGAIN … AGAIN … AND AGAIN … ad absurdum.

So why did you go this time? Because Universal blanketed America with a poster that stretches from sea to shining sea and just how elections are won, ubiquity of the message sealed you up in an environment of no choice and you, little sheep brained one, went. I mean, if it’s got that much exposure it’s got the be the big exciting social event of the summer and dammit if you aren’t going to be the one that didn’t watch it. What the hell are you going to talk about if you can’t talk about Jason Bourne. Thank you Universal for giving society something meaningful to live through and discuss. Our cultural identity is much enriched by your selfless, creative master stroke.

If you are going to make drivel, at least do it knowingly. Because drivel is funny. I.E. Bubble Boy. But drivel that tries to call itself a movie is just an embarassment to anyone who has ever put their name to the art.

For what The Bourne Identity is trying to do, it doesn’t even do it well. The fights are so over the top that sure, its cool to watch, but so what? The Friend as Enemy theme has got be a pretty common one, especially for people in Los Angeles and after Memento, where can you take amnesia?

I’m not a fan of the genre (for so many reasons, many of which I have to use either the words “postmodern”, “post structuralist” or “deconstruction” in any possible combination to explain and nobody wants that), but I know what’s good in the genre. This rehashed piece of junk should have taken a lesson from Sneakers or Mission Impossible – two great films it borrows most of its script from.

I think studios hang on so tightly to action films because they are so predictable in their earnings. I did like Damon’s Bourne because he had a soft edge and there was some irony in that and I found myself laughing at inappropriate times because I just wasn’t buying it. And worse, I had harassed the poor publicist until he finally relented. So I guess I deserved what I got.

And when the word gets out how I felt about The Bourne Identity, I expect to abducted by studio marketing execs under the aegis of the MPAA, shot up with rohepnol and strapped into a chair with my eyelids pried open while they screen the whole bloody catalog of Action Adventure Film X™ until I finally understand that 2+2=5. And then I’ll mysteriously find myself as the arts and entertainment editor of a metro newspaper with no recollection of the incident.

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