The Bourne Identity, based on Robert Ludlum’s 1980 espionage page-turner, is perfect summertime fare. It roller coasts up and down death-defying escapes (literally), sizzles a little with two attractive stars, keeps your knuckles white with one of the best car chases ever (throughout Paris in a tiny Austin Mini, yet), creates unremitting visceral suspense — and most welcome on a hot night — cools you with all its fantastic wintry scenery, shot entirely on location throughout Europe. If nothing else, you’ll leave the theater wanting to revisit those travel brochures you tucked away after 9/11. The likable young hero (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting) gets pulled out of the Mediterranean sea with two bullet holes in his back, the number to a Swiss bank account embedded in his thigh, and not a scrap of memory about who he is or what he did to get himself left for dead. Bit by bit, he notices things about himself that seem incredibly odd: He can speak several languages, and automatically memorizes license plate numbers and the physical details of everyone in sight. Most disconcerting, he has an amazing talent for using deadly force without a moment’s hesitation. At the Swiss bank, he learns he is called Jason Bourne, resident of Paris. His safety deposit box holds a pistol, passports in half a dozen names, and a lottery’s worth of cash in several currencies. By flashing greenbacks, he convinces Maria Kreutz, a young German woman down on her luck (Franka Potente, Blow ) to drive him to Paris. As the kilometers rush by, taunting scraps of memory erupt, and Bourne grows in suspicion that the person he used to be is someone he’d rather not know. But he must find out who Jason Bourne was in order to save the life he has now. Was his life spared so he could redeem himself? Or is he merely postponing his self-destruction? What is the connection Bourne had with an African dictator-in-exile (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who claims he survived an assassination attempt by the CIA? After thwarting several attempts on his life with his remarkable martial-arts and primal survival skills, Bourne accepts what he can’t avoid facing: He is a highly trained killing machine. Someone like him could only have enemies of equal skill. Heading up the team of his unknown assailants is his former boss, Chris Cooper (American Beauty ), and the shadow over him, Brian Cox (The Rookie ). With his amnesia, Bourne’s only advantage is his arsenal of Pavlovian responses. But his enemies are loaded not only with knowledge and memory, but numbers as well. It’s an unequal match. In director Doug Liman’s (Swingers ) edgy vision, Bourne’s quest to level the killing field and evolve from a shady past into the light of a new man is the stuff good old heart-thumping post-Cold War spy movies are made of.
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