The latest ‘Bourne’ entry is a dull mess, 'Star Trek Beyond' brings the fun back, and what's playing at Circle Cinema
Matt Damon in “Jason Bourne”
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is a quasi-Manchurian Candidate, unwillingly conscripted into a secret CIA assassination program. He gets a case of amnesia on a mission. In the search for the truth of his identity, Bourne rebels against his former shadow masters—thus kicking much ass.
Though they suffered from a case of style over substance, the original trilogy of “Bourne” films were consistently entertaining: techno espionage, fisticuffs, explosive car chases, and dangerous women, all wrapped in a frenetic visual package. Infused with a tone befitting Robert Ludlum’s pulpy spy novels, they struck a satisfying balance between James Bond and Frank Martin (“The Transporter”).
But despite the welcome reunion of Damon and writer-director Paul Greengrass after the Jeremy Renner/Tony Gilroy detour, “The Bourne Legacy,” this fifth entry in the franchise is a tepid slog.
Bourne, who has now been in hiding for a decade, punches men for money in a Greek fight club. His new career is interrupted when Bourne’s old ally, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks a CIA database, snagging the digital goods on the Treadstone program (the one that created Bourne). Essentially pulling an Edward Snowden, Parsons aims to expose the shadow conspiracy by putting the files on the Internet.
She quickly finds Bourne; once he learns that Parsons has his lost memories in the stolen files—and the key to long-awaited payback, he stops punching dudes for money and joins her ranks.
Meanwhile, CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is in cahoots with a Silicon Valley tech titan, Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”), who owns a borderline omniscient, Google-esque web platform called “Deep Dream.”
Dewey, utilizing a rookie agent named Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) as a decoy, calls in an assassin (Vincent Cassel) to take out Bourne and retrieve the stolen files. Lee becomes Bourne’s unlikely ally for reasons that still don’t make a ton of sense. But they run around Europe a lot. And stare at a ton of computer screens. I swear to God, a solid third of this movie is people furtively staring at computer screens.
Yes, there is action, but the pace and tone of “Jason Bourne” are bafflingly dull. Pandering to a primetime crowd, it’s the kind of movie where, after the hacking of the CIA’s computers an agent says, “they must have had deep knowledge of our systems.” Well yeah, genius. Goofy pseudo-spy dialogue (“the asset is online”) and spoon-fed information—such as when an encrypted flash drive has the word “ECRYPTED” embossed on the side in big white letters—feel superbly dumb.
But even a rote script, elementary plotting, and misplaced belief that people spouting concerned exposition while staring at glowing stuff is interesting aren’t nearly as annoying as the way Greengrass (who co-wrote with longtime editor Christopher Rouse) shoots his action sequences. Cuts come hard and fast, ironically dulling the mayhem, like badly timed jokes. Greengrass has a predilection for somewhat seizure-inducing camerawork. Here he turns that into an abstract art, spatial cognizance be damned. Instead of enhancing the chaos, he mutes it.
The film is not unlike an episode of “24” (Damon grumbles and broods like Jack Bauer). Vikander is charming, as always. Jones, a basset hound in human form, looks like he’s just waiting to get some Chik-fil-A.
The shopworn tropes of Greengrass’s franchise have outlived their maker’s talent for reinvention. “Jason Bourne” needs to retire.
'Star Trek Beyond' brings the fun back
Directed by Justin Lin and written by Simon Pegg (reprising his role as Scotty) and Doug Jung (“God Particle”), “Star Trek Beyond” returns to the franchise’s roots. It has the feel of a small, classic “Trek” episode.
Picking up three years into their mission, we find Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) in a malaise. Restless, he applies for a new job at a space city called Yorktown—promoting Spock (Zachary Quinto) to take his place at the helm of the Enterprise. Spock yearns to find a new home for refugee Vulcans and isn’t enthused about taking Kirk’s job. Plus, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) just broke up with him.
But then the crew are called to a rescue mission on a nebula-cloaked planet that turns into an ambush by swarms of Sentinel ships commanded by Krall (Idris Elba), a Drakk-like alien bent on finding the final piece to an ultimate weapon—a key that Kirk is hiding.
Lin brings a sense of spectacle, speed, and scope befitting his “Fast and Furious” roots, and the production design makes “Star Trek Beyond” look every cent of its $185 million dollars. And in the midst of Lin’s graceful, looping camerawork, it’s clear he’s as in love with these characters as anyone.
It’s those characters and their relationships that define the legacy of “Star Trek.” As a film franchise, it should be dead. But Pegg is a true geek who knows what makes a “Star Trek” episode tick, and Lin leads us with verve, mining the intimate chemistry of a honed cast that makes this new adventure welcome.
A brief rundown of what's happening at Circle Cinema
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
This faux-cinematic continuation of the of the long-running BBC comedy finds the booze-addled besties, Patsy and Edina (Johanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders) on the ropes of career relevance in the fashion world and bankruptcy when Eddie’s ex-husband cuts off her credit cards. They wind up on the lam in the south of France, after the world comes to believe Eddie killed Kate Moss. All the players are back, but director Mandie Fletcher does the episodic plot no favors, by giving way to a raft of quasi-celebrity cameos. It’s the little character moments that score the best laughs. Rated R
Viggo Mortensen stars as a hippie intellectual father whose family lives off the grid deep in the Washington wilderness. Raising his children according to his own unorthodox ideals, the physically and intellectually fit kids (including Tulsa native Samantha Isler) are ill-prepared to engage the outside world. Rated R
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
In this dramedy from Kiwi auteur Taika Waititi (“What We Do in the Shadows”), a problem kid is shipped out to the country by foster care to live with a cranky old man (Sam Neill). After the two get lost in the woods, a manhunt ensues as the two bond over crazy adventures. Rated PG-13
The latest from Woody Allen finds two star-crossed young lovers (Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart) navigating 1930s high society, first in Hollywood and then New York. With a cast that includes Steve Carell and Blake Lively, this is a nostalgic look back at a jazz-fueled American Golden Age. Rated PG-13
A culture clash comedy of two religions, an old Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) takes a young Muslim apprentice under his wing. The baker’s struggling business receives an unexpected boon after the apprentice drops cannabis into a batch of dough, sending sales to new highs in more ways than one. Not Rated
Opening August 5
Following World War II, a doctor discovers the tragic wake left on an order of Benedictine nuns after Russian soldiers have ravaged a Warsaw convent. A French-Polish production, this intense story of women in a crisis of faith is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Anne Fontaine (“Adore,” “Coco Before Chanel”). Rated PG-13
Showing August 5/6
Army of Darkness (1992)
The latest in the Circle’s Graveyard Shift series is Sam Raimi’s batshit crazy third installment in the Evil Dead saga, “Army of Darkness.” Our mouthy, chainsaw-wielding hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) gets sucked into a time portal and stuck in the Dark Ages. The only way he can return to modern day, of course, is to retrieve the Necronomicon. Gory, goofy, and easily the most fun of the series. Rated R
Opening August 12
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words
Through archive footage taken from concert performances, interviews and backstage hangs, documentarian Thorsten Schütte paints a picture of the legendary, genre-defying musician. Rated R
For showtimes and more information on events and revival screenings, visit circlecinema.com
For more from Joe, read his review of the "Ghostbusters" reboot.