I’ve seen all the Bourne movies, but I wouldn’t consider myself a fan. Darned if I remember much about them. Apparently, Legacy, the new attempt to reboot the franchise opens just like the original, Identity, with a body floating facedown in the water. This and probably other references went over my head.
I do remember some good kinetic action sequences. If that’s what the franchise is about, then Legacy carries on the legacy. Tony Gilroy, the co-writer of the first three Bourne films (with William Blake Herron, Scott Z. Burns & George Nolfi contributing to individual films), takes over directing duties here. He does a fine job delivering an intercut tale of another super-agent, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), on the run against the arrayed alphabet soup of US government security agencies, with their unlimited arsenal of drones, satellite imagery and sub-machine-gun wielding strike teams who are trying to track him, and
I wish the characters on the government side had been better developed. There is much shouting of orders and pulling of rank to keep the scenes full of conflict, but not much to differentiate any of the shouters & rank-pullers — or at least the ones that will survive into the next episode. An evil super-agent, LARX-3 or some such code, comes in way too late in the story and could have been established much earlier, perhaps in the time it took to keep referencing Jason Bourne without actually moving the current story forward.
The character that does get some development is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a virologist who was working on Cross’ in the super-double-top-secret program. You can probably guess what her plot function is, but I won’t ruin it, since the movie takes a long time in making it happen. Weisz plays smart, wounded & tough well. Renner likewise. It’s a pairing that will probably bring me back for installment #5. The Bourne Diplomacy, The Bourne Insurgency, The Bourne Polygamy — place your bets now.
Director Jay Roach has done comedies as wild as Austin Powers and as grounded as Meet the Parents. The Campaign is somewhere in the mushy middle. It feels like an exact followup to The Other Guys for star Will Ferrell. That movie featured funny banter (some of it improvised) hung on a genre structure and some dull jabs at dollars in politics (the Motch Brothers, wah-wah). This is the province of writer/director Adam McCay. McCay is just a producer here, but his Other Guys co-writer Chris Henchy is credited as screenwriter along with Shawn Harwell (Eastbound & Down).
Do Hollywood’s versions of the Motch Brothers consider Will Ferrell a star anymore, capable of carrying a film alone? Case de me padre and Everything Must Go didn’t set the box office on fire. But I prefer to think that Ferrell is sharing the spotlight with rising star Zach Galifianakis not by fiat but because that’s what good comedians do. They let their scene partners shine. As much screen time as Ferrell has, he’s not the star of the film. Galifianakis, as the pug-loving naif Marty Huggins is. Huggins is a late entry in a congressional race against Cam Brady (Ferrell), a longtime North Carolina pol who, when he is not making bland, platitudinous speeches, is ruled entirely by id. Both men are worldclass clueless buffoons. Both actors are up to the task of a stupid-off.
It’s when the movie tries to score some satirical points about our political system that it goes off base. Bulworth this is not. If these two idiots manque and the electorate can be so easily bought, what need of the Motch Brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow in a colossal waste of talent on under-developed villains) for rigged voting machines? You can’t have your laughs and cheat them too. If the movie took the expressed ideals of the real-life Koch Brothers seriously for a half-a-minute, they’d find plenty of material for spoofing. Captains of industry who make their fortunes rent-seeking the government, then bully welfare recipients for enjoying government largesse… well, it writes itself. Or, like the empty words of real politicians, it doesn’t.