Let’s make one thing crystal clear right up front: Those stars are for stylish, full throttle, nobody’s-pretending-this-is-art summer movie fun. “The Bourne” franchise is evolving into a moodier, grittier alternative to the smirky Bond series. If we’re lucky, one of these days Jason Bourne and James Bond may even meet in one of those Freddy vs Jason-style face offs. My bet is the amnesiac CIA assassin would have would have his frufru Brit counterpart saying never again in no time.
But I digress. Matt Damon picks up where he left off at the end of the first film. Though still haunted by nightmares filled with ominous fragments of memory, he and Franka Potente have run off and found happiness laying low in an oceanside paradise somewhere in southern India.
Their life together is so idyllic you just know it can’t continue more than ten or fifteen minutes beyond the opening credits. Sure enough, the American spots a suspicious looking westerner in the course of a routine trip to town one day and, faster than you can say shadowy Soviet operative, the stranger is speeding after the couple in his rented car, blasting away at them with his high powered rifle and just generally ensuring that Bourne will pay him a visit in the film’s final act.
Meanwhile 4000 miles away in Berlin, another shadowy individual is planting Bourne’s fingerprints at a murder scene. When a CIA agent is killed just as he’s about to nab a high level crime figure and take possession of a sought after file concerning the assassination of a Russian politician, Bourne is blamed and once again shoots to the top of Langley’s Must Kill list.
Joan Allen brings gravity and a piercing intelligence to the role of the agent in charge of finding him. Brian Cox gives a delicious performance as her boss, a high ranking official with a hint of duplicity about him.
By the time Bourne learns they’re after him, he’s in a pretty testy mood. Between watching his sweetie get shot through the head and being framed for the Berlin hit, he’s had about all he can take for one sequel and goes into trademark superassassin mode.
What follows is a series of cool, smartly choreographed sequences in which the rogue agent turns the tables on his pursuers. It’s great fun to watch as Allen deploys millions of dollars worth of surveillance technology and an army of undercover agents only to find her quarry time and again hasn’t just slipped through her fingers but managed to draw uncomfortably close. “What’s the security situation,” she asks an assistant at one point, “I mean in our building?”
“The Bourne Supremacy” is based on a Robert Ludlum novel and directed by Paul Greengrass in a stripped down, no nonsense style reminiscent of classic spy thrillers like The Day of the Jackal and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Long dialogue-free stretches are interrupted by sudden bursts of violence and the mayhem is rendered with a realism which keeps the picture from straying into “XXX” territory.
As thrill machines go, the movie leaves little cause for complaint. One or two sequences rely a tad too heavily on coincidence and I could’ve lived without the obligatory car chase. Directors of films like this almost never can resist the temptation to try to top the legendary chases in “The French Connection” and “Bullitt” and Greengrass sacrifices a sizable chunk of his budget, a great many automobiles and too much of his movie’s running time in his attempt. Guys, let it go already.
Over all, though, the picture fires on all pistons. The globetrotting’s a good time-I can’t think of another spy film that’s featured as delightful an assortment of seamy international undersides. The cat and mouse stuff is strictly edge-of-your-seat and Damon’s first rate. The real secret to the success of these films lies in the character’s jarring combination of boyish charm and lethal ninja instincts. When Bourne explodes into action, the juxtaposition rarely fails to mesmerize.
A nifty bonus feature is the timely caution the story offers our government’s covert branches: Be careful whom you teach the art of murder. Noriega, Saddam, bin Laden or Bourne, it can come back to bite you in ways you never quite see coming.