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Becoming Jane, The Bourne Ultimatum

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BECOMING JANE Perfectly pleasant yet also somewhat pointless, Becoming Jane comes across less as a motion picture and more as a victim of identity theft. Given the glut of exemplary films based on the works of Austen -- from the fairly faithful (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice) to the radically reworked (Bridget Jones's Diary, Clueless) -- the only sound reasons to create a movie based on Jane herself would be either to suggest some insights into what turned this country girl into one of the most acclaimed writers in the English language or to provide a comprehensive overview of her life and times. But Becoming Jane prefers to take a more narrow view, focusing on one small period in her life (and, based on historical records, a spotty one at that) and trumping up the details of her brief flirtation with a dashing rogue named Tom Lefroy. As a result, the Jane in this film never feels real, ultimately coming across as fictional a creation as Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood or any other Austen heroine. Still, within its own self-contained chamber, it's an agreeable period romp, missing the spark of the high-end Austen adaptations but firmly in command of its own romantic devices. Anne Hathaway, all-American in The Devil Wears Prada and Brokeback Mountain, adopts a British accent and makes for a lively Jane, while James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) brings the proper measure of rakish charm to the part of Lefroy. It all goes down smoothly, and if the incomplete portrait of Jane Austen sends even one person to the library to hunt down more info, so much the better. **1/2

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM The third time's the charm with The Bourne Ultimatum, the best in the series of films based on the Robert Ludlum novels. Admittedly, I wasn't as great a fan as everyone else when it came to the first two entries in the series, 2002's The Bourne Identity and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy. While I appreciated the films' efforts to bring the spy flick back to its gritty and less gadget-oriented roots (an approach better accomplished by last year's James Bond reinvention, Casino Royale), both Identity (directed by Doug Liman) and Supremacy (helmed by Paul Greengrass) felt as if they were constantly getting stuck in the same grooves, with repetitive action sequences, a squandering of great talent in throwaway roles, and a tight-lipped protagonist so one-note that viewer empathy was next to impossible. These problems haven't all been rectified in Ultimatum, but they don't nag as consistently as before. Matt Damon, suitably taciturn even though he's still too young for the role, again stars as Jason Bourne, the former CIA assassin whose continuing bout of amnesia regarding his past perpetually keeps him searching for the truth, even as his agency handlers seek to have him terminated. Greengrass, returning to the series after taking time off to earn a Best Director Oscar nomination for United 93, tops himself with action set pieces that prove to be more exciting than those on display in his Supremacy (or Liman's Identity). One of the lengthy chase scenes is especially impressive, and makes one wonder if Damon elected to forego a straight salary in order to be paid by the kilometer. ***

HAIRSPRAY A testing of the mainstream waters, maverick moviemaker John Waters' 1988 Hairspray was a critical hit that was eventually turned into a Broadway musical before now being brought back to the screen. A similar screen-to-stage-to-screen journey didn't help The Producers, but here's betting that Hairspray meets with more success. It's one of this summer's few out-and-out delights, smoothing out but never compromising the themes that made Waters' film such a quirky delight. An ode to being different, Hairspray, set in 1960s Baltimore, stars peppy newcomer Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager who won't let her pleasantly plump figure get in the way of following her dream to dance. The film's hot-topic issues (including racism) are presented in the realm of feel-good fantasy, meaning that reality has no place in this particular picture. It's first and foremost a musical, and director Adam Shankman does a commendable job of filming the song-and-dance routines in a manner that accentuates the total skills involved (the noticeable lack of rapid MTV-style cuts is greatly appreciated). All of the principals are allowed to belt out at least one number apiece, and their enthusiasm and energy is positively infectious. The weakest cast link is, perhaps surprisingly, John Travolta (in drag as Tracy's plump mom), who fails to adequately fill the large shoes of the late Divine, who was simply, well, divine in Waters' original screen version. As for John Waters, he stuck around to make sure that the circle was complete. Look for him in a split-second cameo at the beginning: He's the pervert who flashes a trio of housewives on the street. ***1/2

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