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Thursday, July 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Bourne Supremacy": Cool spies in the crosshairs

Seattle Times movie critic

Opening at midnight tonight

Showtimes and trailer

***

"The Bourne Supremacy," with Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban, Gabriel Mann, Joan Allen. Directed by Paul Greengrass, from a screenplay by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence and intense action, and brief language. Several theaters.

If you can possibly avoid it, try not to be trapped in a room with any of the characters from the new action thriller "The Bourne Supremacy." These people are all very good at what I'll call Sudden Improbable Overpowering — take your eyes off them at your peril. Matt Damon, in particular, has clearly been drinking his superhero juice; this guy could probably take out an entire multiplex full of people, most of whom would be too busy saying "Hey, how'd that 'Good Will Hunting' guy get those muscles?" to resist.

"Supremacy" makes for an enjoyable-enough night at the movies, though it's not as well-crafted as its predecessor, Doug Liman's 2002 hit "The Bourne Identity." That film, the story of a trained assassin trying to remember his shadowy past while simultaneously coping with a lot of people who wanted to kill him (based on Robert Ludlum's novel), featured a number of surprising pleasures: Damon's oddly low-key, likable turn as a buff action star; the offbeat casting of Franka Potente ("Run Lola Run") as his girlfriend; the glamorously lit European locations; the breathtaking car chases; and one of modern cinema's better off-the-cuff haircutting scenes. (Yes, go back and rent the DVD if you missed it.)

But Liman passed on the director's chair this time around, handing the franchise over to Paul Greengrass — who, apparently, never met a quick cut he didn't like. "Supremacy" is caffeine cinema; its every scene pieced together with a multitude of staccato moments. Greengrass' "Bloody Sunday" used a similarly jittery style to better effect — in that documentarylike drama about the Irish civil-rights struggle, all the movement contributed to a messy, breathless real-life feel, appropriate to the story Greengrass was telling.

Here, it gets in the way of the elegance of the performances and interferes with our enjoyment of the action sequences — we always feel as if we're trying to catch up. You can sense the joyride effect that Greengrass was going for, but it's just overkill. Late in the film, there's a long, slow shot of a large apartment building, with its windows glowing in the late-day light like jewels, and it's like a nap for the eyes — this movie needed to slow down a bit, to get a little lost in the story it's been so busy drowning out.

But an excess of style is a forgivable sin, and Greengrass' film offers enough enjoyment to offset its own franticness. Much of the fine original cast (alas, no Clive Owen or Chris Cooper) has returned, with a few key additions — most notably Joan Allen as a fetchingly tough CIA agent.

The story — which, reportedly, has little to do with Ludlum's book — unfolds in intriguing fits and starts, never over-explaining. (In fact, a few key plot points from the first movie are finally clarified here.) And so it's best simply to say that Damon's Bourne is still struggling with his memories, that he's on the run across Europe with a passel of agents and adversaries scurrying in his wake, that everyone wears dark clothes and looks cooler than an iced latte (you wonder how these spies stay undercover, as they look so much better than everyone else), and that the door remains open for another movie, preferably one in which Damon and Allen will share more screen time.

As summer blockbusters go, "The Bourne Supremacy" isn't "Spider-Man 2," but it's better than most we've seen so far this season. Keep a close eye on Damon, though — his slippery Bourne keeps turning up, where you least expect him. Wasn't that him in the popcorn line?

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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