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Plotless remake fails to find true 'Identity'

Action, suspense and hard bodies don't rescue the plot

Within the first five minutes, "The Bourne Identity" launches into over-the-top action, adrenaline and suspense that saturate the movie.

Matt Damon plays the central character in the Universal Pictures' film, a remake of the 1980 Robert Ludlum spy novel of the same name. But don't think that a movie inspired by an interesting story has any obligation to be interesting itself. Even from the film's opening, clearly nothing is going on beneath the surface. Lots of frills and fast-paced action don't insert significance into its hollow interior.

Damon plays a man who is rescued from drowning in the ocean. He discovers that he is suffering from total - and never explained - amnesia. As he begins to search for his identity, he realizes that he possesses almost super-human strength and fighting skills (a great opportunity for the filmmakers to show off their technically enhanced sound and action.)

He clues in to the fact that a system of undercover officials is trying to kill him everywhere he goes. He adopts the name Jason Bourne from one of six different passports that he finds in his safe deposit box.

He meets Marie, played by Franka Potente, who is a random stranger at a bank. For some reason, she decides that she wants to stick by Bourne through a lot of pointless stress and destruction. We are told that she's a drifter, which is supposed to justify her unbelievable need to follow a dangerous stranger around. She also, apparently, thinks he's a fox - although there is amazingly zero on-screen chemistry between Damon and Potente.

Thus, the two become a team in the search for Bourne's identity - and they are never without excitement. Elaborate car chases, gunfights and fast-paced stunts mark the couple's time together.

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No doubt remains that they are adamant about fighting, but what exactly they are fighting for is never made clear in the film.

With this story already in existence as a novel as well as a 1988 movie version, the audience can piece together the fragments of this film enough to understand that Bourne is a trained assassin who has failed to perform his duties. Therefore, the system he works for wants him dead. But in this version of "The Bourne Identity," none of the characters ever truly seem to know what's going on. As a result, the audience is never quite sure what all the fuss is about either.

The script seems to depend too much on the previous incarnations of this story. There is no underlying substance to uphold the weight of all the action in this movie. What little dialogue that exists is exhausting and forced. There is no character development. The action on the surface builds on non-existent emotion.

What surely began as elaborate prose in the novel has been reduced to a rush of techno music and special effects; the filmmakers successfully plucked all the excitement from the novel but failed to capture much else. Not once did I feel compelled to invest concern over these characters.

By the end, most of the strings don't even tie up. Although given some answers, none of them change the fact that I have not cared about anything for the past hour and a half. The cast is comprised of lots of recognizable faces, including Damon, Potente, Chris Cooper and Julia Stiles, but that doesn't rescue the film from disaster.

Damon himself is an odd decision for the role of Bourne. He shifts between his typical wholesome desperation and overly forced tension and emotion. At the beginning, as Bourne is freaking out about who he is, Damon screams, fights, breaks things and does everything except come across convincingly. Perhaps the fact that there is little dialogue is an advantage in the case of Damon, who does a better job of playing a troubled heartbreaker than a high-profile action spy.

Of course, there are plenty of people who will still like "The Bourne Identity," if they seriously don't mind that there is no plot behind the action. There are plenty of fast-paced scenes, violence, suspense and hard bodies to get most audiences revved up. By these Hollywood standards, this movie rocks.

Fortunately, Damon, Potente, Cooper and Stiles all have solid film careers that will survive this glittery flop, but the movie itself is undoubtedly destined to fall into the void - into the eternal darkness of lame summer movies.

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