Just Call Him the Anti-007

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The amnesia afflicting Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is, luckily for him, only partial. He can't quite remember what line of work he's in (CIA assassin) or how he came to be floating, more dead than alive, in the Mediterranean Sea one dark and stormy night.

On the other hand, once a fishing boat picks him up and he dries off, various useful bits of information suddenly come back to him. For example, the number of a Swiss bank account that contains wads of cash, fraudulent passports and a revolver. A little later, when people start trying to kill him, his skills with karate, a wide assortment of weaponry and getting out of tight spots also return.

We need not send very far to know who is after him. It's his old CIA pals, most notably the grimly implacable Ted Conklin (Chris Cooper). They don't want to get tangled up in the loose ends of his previous failure — congressional oversight and all that. They have all the latest electronics to aid them. He has only Marie (Franka Potente, late of Run Lola Run), whom he picked up in Zurich, but she is a game gal — and an unglamorously appealing one too.

This movie, postponed from the fall and fairly loosely adapted from the 1980 thriller by Robert Ludlum, doesn't really have a thought in its mind. It just wants to send Jason and Marie skittering around Europe. But the locales are wintry and attractive, and the director, Doug Liman, has a nice gift not just for your standard car chases but also for potentially deadly and seemingly unpremeditated surprises. We won't spoil them with too much detail. Just remember that a peaceful-looking countryside offers many places in which a guy with a high-powered rifle can take cover.

The Bourne Identity has a couple of things going for it beyond the slick expertise of its making. One of them is Matt Damon. He's a cute guy, but not, in this instance, a cuddlesome one. He has an idea of how a man feeling his way along dangerous ground, with no memory to guide him, might behave. Which is warily. He doesn't have a lot of energy to spare for comic quips or romantic dither either. Think of him as the anti-007.

The other good thing about this movie is, oddly enough, its utter irrelevance to all the things that have made us anxious for the past eight months. There are no terrorists present, no threats of ghastly weaponry falling into erratic hands. The bad guys remain traditional bureaucrats trying to cover their backsides. They still attempt to kill the old-fashioned way, up close and personal, but without a fanatic's awful malice. The result is an escapist fantasy that is — Damon's and Potente's persuasive performances aside — as weightless and inconsequential as a musical. And at the moment every bit as welcome.