The Bourne Identity

I was just jotting in my notes that “The Bourne Identity” has an intriguing start but then falls into a rut, when suddenly a man in the film leaped through a window and started shooting at people.

This led to a visceral, bone-crunching fight, after which things settled down for a while — and then there was a pretty decent car chase through the streets of Paris, which buoyed my spirits considerably.

The film, like many action thrillers, follows that formula a lot: action scene, some other stuff, action scene, some other stuff. The action scenes here are generally pulse-pounding and gritty; the problem is that they don’t build to anything. No sequence is any more or less exciting than any other, and the stakes never really get higher — the protagonist is being hunted the entire time, and then there’s a finale, and then you go home.

Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin who finds himself gunshot and dying on a fishing boat in the Mediterranean. He has amnesia; it is only by following clues that he even learns his name (as well as several of his aliases).

His skills, however, have not been forgotten. Instinctually, he can fight, spy and maneuver — and it alarms him that he can do this, and that it comes so naturally to him.

Because there are generally unwilling partners in these sorts of films, Bourne teams up with Marie (Franka Potente), a down-on-her-luck German gal who helps him elude the men who are, for reasons unknown to him, trying to kill him. Marie also engages in a lukewarm, obligatory romance with Bourne.

Directed by Doug Liman (“Go,” “Swingers”) and adapted by Tony Gilroy from Robert Ludlum’s novel, “The Bourne Identity” is a film with no place to go. In reconstructing his life, Bourne is able to learn scant few details about himself or his career, and so there’s little to look at in terms of his reactions, his plans, and so on.

On the other hand, WE learn plenty about Bourne, thanks to scenes back at CIA headquarters, with Chris Cooper as the agent ordering Bourne’s death.

With all this information being revealed (to us, but not to Bourne), mysteries never stand still long enough for us to puzzle over them. Someone mentions that a CIA mission has failed, and we think, “I wonder what the mission was?” Two seconds later, there’s a deposed dictator on TV, angrily denouncing the CIA for trying to assassinate him. And we think, “Oh. So that was it.” This pattern is repeated frequently, and it’s about as fun as watching someone else put together a jigsaw puzzle, rather than doing it yourself.

Matt Damon can be an action hero if he wants to be; his “angry and determined” face works in this film. It would have been good to see more fear, particularly when he’s first coming to grips with his amnesia, but maybe it would have made his cypheric character seem too real. Heaven forbid we get something believable or honest in a blow-things-up action flick.

C+ (; PG-13, a lot of profanity, a lot of somewhat graphic violence.)