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Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012

The Bourne Legacy

Film series misses its main star, director

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Bourne without Jason Bourne? It sounds like a Bond movie without James Bond or a Sherlock Holmes tale starring the great detective's public school headmaster. So Matt Damon didn't want to return as Jason without the imaginative director of the previous Bourne films, Paul Greengrass, behind the camera? It's hard not to suspect that the new film, The Bourne Legacy, was cobbled together from spare parts to capitalize on a familiar name from a successful franchise.

The movie does little to dispel bad impressions. The Bourne Legacy jumps and fidgets and stumbles around half the world, dropping references to the infamous Jason (we even see Damon's mug shot) while trying to hold a plot together. The story will only gradually make sense to anyone not heavily invested in the Bourne saga. Picking up where The Bourne Ultimatum left us, the mendacious CIA and their corporate partners are trying to shut down the potentially embarrassing Treadstone operation by killing its super-enhanced commandos, though (spoiler alert!) not all of them.

The Legacy's protagonist, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), has more than one cross to bear. All of a sudden this extreme warrior-in-training is running for his life. Somehow he finds the money to fly from the Alaskan wilderness to the East Coast and eventually to Manila. What? Couldn't the all-seeing CIA cancel his credit cards? Along the way he hooks up with the only woman who can save him, Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a researcher at the pharmaceutical giant supplying Treadstone with the meds that turn Clark Kents into Supermen.

Elements of the Cross-Shearing story strike the only notes of interest, and no: It's not their inevitable (spoiler alert!) pasted-on romance. Although he was 12 points shy on the IQ test, Cross was shunted into the Army by an eager recruiter post-9/11. Blown up while in Iraq, the soldier was given the choice to become something special (as shown in the well-done flashbacks). As for Shearing, she's an example of the compartmentalization of moral and mental life. Even though she knew something was fishy with Treadstone, she continued doing her job. “I don't make policy. I was there for the science!” she insists. And that science involves genetic manipulation of humanity, the old nightmare of creating a “better” species from our existing stock.

Action scenes? Director Tony Gilroy shoots The Bourne Legacy in a jump-cutting blur, a fog of pieced-together motion that never conveys the danger of, say (spoiler alert!), a motorcycle chase through the crowded streets of Manila. The Bourne Legacy is almost entirely blah, as flat as the usually excellent Edward Norton's “can't you see I'm bored” performance as the CIA operative in charge.