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August 1-7, 2007

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Spy Hard

'The Bourne Ultimatum' takes our man of mystery on a whirlwind world tour

By Richard von Busack

I SAW The Bourne Ultimatum, in the sense that I was there sitting in the theater, not in the sense that I saw it. As in the last Bourne, Paul Greengrass' vérité-on-steroids camerawork once again made what should have been some master action sequences nearly invisible. We visit thrilling cities like Madrid, Tangier and New York at either 1,000 feet or at 35 mph. The whirlicam tries to make Hitchcock spin in his grave during the wilder sequences: a multiman-hunt in Waterloo Station, refereed by a sniper hidden behind a billboard; a motorcycle chase through the souk at Tangier. These are followed by a close-quarters fight in an apartment seemingly lined with breakable glass, which is meant to be (and almost is) as brutal as the Shaw vs. Connery train-compartment cage match in From Russia With Love. Lastly, we get a demolition derby in midtown Manhattan. For sheer crunch, it surpasses even The French Connection. Except for the car crashes, it all would have been my kind of fun if I could have had a better look at it.

Moments of respite are provided by the dead calm of Julia Stiles, reprising her role of Nicky, the watchful intelligence agent who figures out that Bourne is innocent. Stiles demonstrates once again that the secret to glamour is slowness; if everyone else is huffing at high speed, play against them, as if wondering why they're in such a hurry. Since the coolest, spookiest part of the Bourne series so far has been the bathroom-sink dye job sequence with Franke Potente, Greengrass brings it back for seconds with Stiles. Dealing with a lady's hair is just about the only moment of intimacy Bourne (Matt Damon) gets. The real tragedy of Jason Bourne is that he has to kill people for a living when he could have been happier at Vidal Sassoon.

Bourne is flushed out when an article tells the story of his previous trans-European adventures. Tracking down the journalist (Paddy Considine) who called him out, Bourne veers back into the radar of his masters: David Strathairn as a CIA exec, who is being monitored in turn by a higher-up (Joan Allen). "Operation Treadstone," has been superceded by a higherclassified "Operation Blackbriar" (they always name these black-bag ops as if they were wineries). Known by either name, this is "the sharp end of the stick," an assassination program that has gone badly out of bounds.

Trying to outwit his enemies, Damon crowds his already crowded facial features into a frown of concentration. If nothing else, The Bourne Ultimatum is speedy and makes two hours vanish without a trace. Allen is bracing. But then she gets a little ridiculous: discovering the truth behind Blackbriar, she urges, "This isn't us." (Meaning "This isn't what the United States would do.") In fact, decades of deliberately obscured history insist that it certainly is us. The film tries to be a contemporary spy entertainment that doesn't allude too clearly to the current overseas ugliness, the playground of real-life Bournes. The result seems a little canned, a little mopey around the edges. And, let's face it, James Bond could kick his ass.

Movie Times The Bourne Ultimatum (PG-13; 111 min.), directed by Paul Greengrass, written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum, photographed by Oliver Wood and starring Matt Damon and Julia Stiles, opens Aug. 3 valleywide.

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