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ACTION SLIPS INTO FRENZY

Nonstop moves by actors and cameras nearly make The Bourne Ultimatum an exhausting experience.

Nobody dies harder than Jason Bourne, the amnesiac hero of novelist Robert Ludlum's CIA coverup trilogy.

Nobody tries harder than director Paul Greengrass to make viewers feel every confusion and compound fracture along Bourne's journey to his past.

The Bourne Ultimatum often makes one wish Greengrass wouldn't try so hard.

Watching the movie is a Dramamine experience, with palsied cameras whipping to and fro then zooming to close-ups when anyone has an important line to deliver. The synth-drum musical score - composed in part by Moby - aggressively strains to be a metronome for pulse rates. Travelocity couldn't zip antagonists around the world any more frantically.

The strategy worked for Greengrass in The Bourne Supremacy (2005), or perhaps that was just relief after the two-hour fret fest that was 2002's The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman. Watching Bourne emerge from a mind cloud and begin piecing together his dilemma gradually became livelier. Now it is oppressively urgent, and possibly indecipherable for newcomers to the series.

One constant pleasure has been Matt Damon's scowling portrayal of reflexive assassin Jason Bourne, who does indeed learn his true name and locate his Dr. Frankenstein. Damon has steadfastly resisted pretty-boy tricks to endear himself to audiences. His appropriately soulless line readings don't contain catchphrases, and his breakdowns never feel weak.

Damon is in full pensive mode when The Bourne Ultimatum begins. His search for the truth leads to London, where a newspaper reporter (Paddy Considine) has an inside source. Greengrass stages a terrific sequence in Waterloo station with Bourne leading the reporter by cell phone through a maze of killers and innocent bystanders. The jittery camera and throbbing score do work well in situations like this.

Not so much when Greengrass delves into the sterile lair of rogue CIA supervisor Noah Vosen (David Strathairn). The expository dialogue and Strathairn's typically fine performance are lost in the sensory shuffle. When camera operators are moving around a set more than the actors, it may be time to scale back a bit.

Fortunately, Bourne finds some sort of violent pick-me-up at each stop on his worldwide vengeance tour, but good luck matching the locale with the bone crushing. But a staircase brawl and a car chase ending in free fall are top-notch.

The Bourne Ultimatum was the last of Ludlam's words on the subject before his 2001 death. All signs have previously pointed to the movie series ending here despite two Bourne novels published later by another author. The movie's final shot suggests the producers can go either way.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com.

Review

The Bourne Ultimatum

Grade: B-

Director: Paul Greengrass

Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Straithairn, Joan Allen, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Paddy Considine

Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns, George Nolfi, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum

Rating: PG-13; intense action violence, profanity

Running time: 111 min.

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