If you're a fan of the "Bourne" movies -- and who isn't? -- you've probably been skeptical about the newest entry, "The Bourne Legacy." For starters, it doesn't star Matt Damon as covert superagent Jason Bourne, a worrisome sign to say the least. Also missing is director Paul Greengrass, who twice turned these hokey spy flicks into top-flight entertainment. While we're at it, the book that inspired "The Bourne Legacy" wasn't even written by the series' original author, Robert Ludlum.
It turns out "The Bourne Legacy" isn't about Bourne or even his secret Treadstone group, but another agent, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), from another program called Outcome. In an attempt at brand continuity, faces from previous movies show up -- Scott Glenn as CIA director Ezra Kramer, Joan Allen as whistle-blower Pamela Landy -- but the plot is driven by a new ruthless bureaucrat, Lt. Col. Eric Byer (an effective Edward Norton). Same story, different names.
You might almost buy the bait-and-switch if Renner revealed even a glimmer of Damon's intensity and vulnerability. Hollywood seems determined to turn Renner into an action hero ("Marvel's The Avengers," the latest "Mission: Impossible"), but here he's once again a sullen, grim-faced figure who's too busy looking the part to show any emotion or a sense of humor. Cross' budding romance with scientist Marta Shearing (an ill-used Rachel Weisz) doesn't play: It's unclear why she'd fall for this self-serious drip, even if he did save her life.
Director Tony Gilroy, who so deftly transformed corporate wonkery into white-knuckle tension in "Michael Clayton," here does the exact opposite. This is a talky, draggy thriller, muddled by flashbacks and woefully low on action. There's a zippy motorcycle chase through Manila near the movie's end, but by then this "Bourne" has wasted too much breath explaining how it connects to the others. My advice: Accept no substitutes.
PLOT An off-the-grid agent tries to elude his own handlers. RATING PG-13 (violence, action sequences)
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Renner replaces Matt Damon but fires blanks in this draggy, talky, no-thrills "Bourne" imitation.
'Bourne Legacy': Success needed
In a summer in which Universal's "Battleship" will lose about $100 million and its "Snow White and the Huntsman" will struggle to break even, the studio badly needs its $130-million "Bourne Legacy" to connect. "It's one of our most lucrative franchises," Donna Langley, Universal's co-chairwoman, said of the three "Bourne" films, which have sold a combined $944 million in worldwide tickets. Unlike many successful series, the cerebral spy tales filled with double and triple crossings have attracted strong reviews and robust attendance from older moviegoers, who typically shy away from most big-budget summer fare.
The studio wants the new film to succeed not only as a stand-alone production but also as the first entry in a potential cycle of movies. But Universal has struggled to create a separate identity for "The Bourne Legacy," which focuses on a clandestine program to create superhuman soldiers.
"I hope it starts a conversation -- that there's excitement about the possibilities," Renner said about "The Bourne Legacy." "That would be the ultimate compliment: I can't wait to see where this goes next." -- Los Angeles Times