When Ludlum originally wrote The Bourne Identity in 1980, he had the following factors in his favor:
1. A movie hadn't already been made on the book
2. People hadn't yet seen everything that was to be seen in spy movies, which was to go right down to James Bond impersonators like Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan
3. America was quite willing to believe that the CIA could be like a cobra - i. e., if it had a little more warmth
4. Zero-credibility plots still had novelty value, since the Americans still weren't saving the world in Hollywood
This remake, a second (after the one starring Richard Chamberlain in 1988), suffers from the opposites of all of the above, and emerges a culture clash flick - wrong movie, wrong time. Heck, we want to grab a spy movie about as much as we want to read the yellow pages. The encores for that one went out with... now, when did the Cold War end?
The Bourne Identity has Matt Damon asking himself the ultimate question: Who am I? Fished out of deep Mediterranean waters in an unconscious state, he is operated upon to have 2 slugs, a capsule with a Zurich bank account number and an extra large helping of amnesia found in him. He can't remember a single friggin' thing about who he is. But since memory comes cheap these days, he decides to go out to get some.
Now the dude may have forgotten who he was (or is, or whatever the grammar is in this context), but he's a martial arts guy who can cripple people in atomic time, talk several languages without buying a single "Learn In 30 Days" book, and generally remember random things like all license plate numbers of cars outside a restaurant. Basically some kind of freak who fell in the magic potion when he was a kid.
The bank account number leads our man to a locker which has a bag of passports that establish him to be one of two possible men (just like the PM of India these days, hee hee!), and also lots of cash. This is also the time when some people are trying to rub him out, and so he buys a trip from Zurich to Paris in a car being driven by a woman Marie (Franka Potente) whose scruples are overcome by USD 20,000.
The villain turns out to be Conklin (Chris Cooper), CIA honcho, who wants Jason Bourne (which, in light of no strong evidence to the contrary, the film assigns as Matt's name) dead because he was an off-the-books CIA experiment that went awry. Basically Bourne was
supposed to be a super-powerful weapon that the CIA created to murder an exiled black leader without any trace pointing at the CIA, but our man gets senti at the last minute and falters. No wonder the CIA doesn't care for him - even Narendra Modi wouldn't hire a guy like that!
Anyway, Jason and Marie spend the rest of the movie escaping around in Paris, when eventually they discover who he really is, and life goes on. Like we said, the flick is irrelevant in a post-Cold War era where there's not much call for this kinda spy's line of work. Besides, James Bond has done everything that a spy could possibly do (and, as a bonus, has even acted in movies), which means there's nothing new. The plot is quite implausible (starting right from how Jason lives after being hurled into the ocean with bullet injuries), too. And the CIA wanting to bump off its own employees is not flavor anymore.
Damon brings dignity to a wildly fictional role. Franka Potente has a grounded charm and sex appeal about her that stem from her vulnerability. Among the others, it's unclear what Julia Stiles is doing in that bit role. Clive Owen, who plays The Professor, another CIA assassin, is a draw despite limited screen-time. He serves as the perfect ambassador for assassins.
As spy movies go, however, this one is quite good. And some great European backdrops are the highlight of the film. As for no mention of the car chase, guess who's done every form of car chase already? No, it's not Bourne, Jason Bourne.