Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review: "Jason Bourne"

I wonder if the CIA has ever run an analysis of what percentage of their resources are spent just chasing Jason Bourne. It must be at least 25 percent, based on what we see in the movies, now in their fourth go-round with this self-titled and completely redundant film.

(Five, if you count the Bourneless Jason Bourne movie starring Jeremy Renner, and nobody does.)

“Jason Bourne” isn’t so much a single story as a series of chase set pieces played out against international backdrops. Jason (Matt Damon, grayer and thicker since his last outing nearly a decade ago) appears in Berlin, the local CIA team is sent after him, he leads them on a merry chase on foot and by vehicle, he takes a few out with his super awesome spy skills, and gives the rest the dodge.

Now we’re in London. Jason appears, the local CIA team… you get the idea.

The plot, such as it is, involves Bourne again trying to ferret out the truth of his background as an assassin in the Treadstone Program. He’s already recovered most of his lost memory, but there are a few more tantalizing pieces floating out there. Like that his dad was involved in the creation of Treadstone, and the current CIA Director, the reptilian Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), had something to do with his death.

There’s also another super-spy on the hunt who’s only referred to as “Asset,” played by Vincent Cassel. No, I mean literally, people call him on the phone or one of those spy ear piece thingees and say things like, “Asset, are you in London yet?” We know it’s going to come down to a faceoff between these two, since they’re setting up Asset as Jason’s supposed equal (ha!).

There’s an inordinate number of car chases in this Bourne outing, most notably a SWAT truck driven by Asset mowing through vehicles on the Las Vegas Strip, with Jason piloting some sleek black Product Placementmobile.

Alicia Vikander is the newbie, Heather Lee, a computer expert who acts as Dewey’s protégé but really sees him as a dinosaur. The Swedish actress speaks in a weird glottal voice that I think is supposed to be Generic American but comes across as Irish with the flu. Anyway, in her Bourne finds an unexpected sympathetic ear; she wants to bring him back into the CIA fold rather than just take him out.

It’s suggested that Bourne is truly tempted by this; but hasn’t he spent the last 15 years killing or crippling CIA agents chasing him? I can only imagine what the office Christmas party would be like. “And Mark’s Secret Santa was Jason, who’s given him… an artificial knee joint to replace the one he crushed in ’03. How nice!”

Turns out Dewey’s cooked up a plan for a new program, Iron Hand, which will allow the spooks to monitor everyone, everywhere. How scary! He’s even teamed up with a Facebook-like mogul, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), to do it without the public’s knowledge.

Of course, during the course of the film we witness the CIA cut off the power to a remote hackers’ den in Iceland, activate street cameras as spy cams in Berlin, and tap into a landline phone to use it to wipe a laptop computer sitting a dozen feet away. Why is it they need Iron Hand, again?

I also find it weird that Bourne never even makes a passing attempt at disguise. Oh, he’ll put on a hat or take one off, but that’s about it. He’s, like, the greatest spy ever, but he can’t even don a fake beard or something?

Paul Greengrass, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Rouse, directs another adrenaline-fueled expedition into the land of Shaky Cam and Hyper Edit. His action scenes have no weight or impact; watching this movie is like looking into a shattered mirror that somebody reassembled without much care as to what goes where.

The ugly truth is there’s just no juice left in the Bourne shtick. Damon seems dyspeptic and impatient; his Jason Bourne is no longer the wide-eyed youngster trying to recover his soul, just another immortal action hero mowing down bad guys. But without quips – he barely even talks, in fact.

Final edifying tidbit: In the last movie Jason’s birth year was given as 1971, but now in the documents we see flash on screen it’s updated to 1978. Clearly somebody is worried about Jason Bourne’s act getting old … with good reason.

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