The Bourne Supremacy *** 1/2 (Out of four)
Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Franka Potente and Brian Cox in the high-energy sequel to the spy action thriller "The Bourne Identity." Directed by Paul Greengrass. Opening Friday in area theaters.
After a singularly vicious fight to the death with a fellow assassin, Jason Bourne knows from the swelling siren sounds on the streets of Berlin that the cops will be on him in seconds.
With, literally, not even a second to think about what to do with the murderous spy he just added to his body count, he disconnects the gas pipe, grabs a magazine from the coffee table, shoves it into the toaster and turns it on.
Then he escapes. When the German cops get to the door 10 seconds later, the whole house explodes.
Talk about being able to think on your feet.
Amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne is back in "The Bourne Supremacy," yet another wild hyperkinetic action thriller for the post-Einsteinian age. Even more than Doug Liman's original "The Bourne Identity," this is the contemporary cinema of amnesia. It forgets how to do almost everything but move, but that it has developed into an enthralling, brilliantly decadent 21st century art.
Except for one brief ashen emotional scene at the end, no single shot in "The Bourne Supremacy" lasts longer than five seconds. Usually, there's a cut even before that. And when it isn't being edited at the rhythm of a Cuisinart, a hand-held camera is moving or jumping around, even during the very infrequent moments when the plot isn't hurtling forward around Asia and Europe, (From India to Berlin to Naples to Munich to Moscow; this is cinematic tourism at the film equivalent of 70 mph.)
And now an ever-so-brief respite while we remember the recent past. You have to remember - quickly now - how we got here. Robert Ludlum's novel "The Bourne Identity" was already adapted for TV long ago, but that was a miniseries, for pity's sake, with time to dawdle and periodically stop dead to sell the audience car insurance and Cheez-Its.
And then the masterful young hyperkineticist Liman ("Go," "Swingers") yanked Matt Damon out of the depressing, twerpy boy band that passes for male movie stars these days and taught him how to make a deposit on a genuine grown-up career. Liman knew in the movie of "The Bourne Identity" that Damon's affliction is his boyish charm. It's amazing how substantial you can make him seem by cutting out almost all his dialogue, wiping the smirk off his face and filming him with lighting that makes him look as if he's been awake for 36 hours.
The new Bourne chapter follows suit.
"The Bourne Identity" - about an ultralethal amnesiac assassin's struggles against an unknown self and a homicidal world he's forgotten - was one of the most exciting and well-made action thrillers of the past decade. With "The Bourne Supremacy," a franchise seem to be officially born. I wouldn't say it's as good a film as "The Bourne Identity," but it doesn't really have to be. Once you plunk down your money at the box office, "The Bourne Supremacy" doesn't give you enough time to think about recondite matters. You can hash all that out over coffee or drinks afterward.
While you're watching the film, you're up to your cup holder in white-knuckle car chases (one in India, one in Moscow) that are more like demolition derbies, fight scenes, foot chases in subways and hazily remembered killings in Berlin's Grand Hotel. (It's now the Westin Grand; how's that for a sign of the times?)
All of them have been re-imagined in the cutting rhythms of the post-MTV world. Compared to this movie, such sequences in Peckinpah, Scorsese, even Spielberg films seem almost stately.
But then that's the kind of movie you have to have when you're coming up against Halle Berry's eye-popping "Catwoman" costume on a movie's opening day. You can bet your Krispy Kreme that Berry will have the opening week box office against Bourne, but Jason Bourne will have the longevity. It's been extracaffeinated for all ages: teens on date night, adults who paid a sitter, retirees in search of a cinematic pick-me-up.
The director is Paul Greengrass, young director and former investigative journalist with a first-rate, if not exactly famous, movie pedigree ("Bloody Sunday," "Theory of Flight").
German star Franka Potente, of Tom Tykwer's wonderfully hyperkinetic "Run, Lola, Run," is back as Bourne's live-in - but not for long. Joan Allen plays a CIA deputy chief who wants to get to the bottom of the whole matter. Brian Cox returns as the kind of CIA superior whose idea of a solution to the Bourne problem is to "find this sonofabitch and take him down. I'm not having Jason Bourne destroying any more of the agency."
Julia Stiles is back as Bourne's old Paris buddy, the one who clues us in on the psychological maladies of those in the business of "black on black" ops: "Depression. Anger. Compulsive Behaviors."
And that's when they're off-duty and happy.
Bring them out of semi-retirement in India, get them riled up and you're liable to get suburban middle-class architecture blown to smithereens with just a magazine and a toaster.
And also, not so by-the-way, to get positively ripping movie entertainments.