Turning a Cold War era thriller novel into a 21st Century movie is a process fraught with potential disaster zones, but the first of Robert Ludlum's three Bourne books, The Bourne Identity, has here been adapted to fit into any time period.
The story opens in dramatic style as an amnesiac (Matt Damon) is rescued from the sea by the crew of an Italian fishing boat. Nearly dead, he carries only the bullets in his back and the bank account number implanted in his hip. Although completely without identity or background, he does possess an array of extraordinary talents in fighting, linguistics and self-defence that speak of a dangerous past. He sets out on a desperate search to discover who he really is, and why so many people appear to want him dead.
In Zurich, a safe deposit box yields an assortment of passports, a pile of cash in various currencies, an automatic gun and a name - Jason Bourne - with an address in Paris.
Bourne has no idea what he would use these items for or who he is, but it seems others do, recognise him - and want him dead.
Avoiding the stations and airports, he offers the wandering Marie Kreuitz (Franka Potente) US$10,000 for a ride to Paris to continue his voyage of self-discovery. She reluctantly accepts - and becomes embroiled in the cauldron of Bourne's crisis.
For the first hour or so, the adventure hurtles along, offering little quarter to audiences who want to stop and pick holes in the plot. Various unseen enemies suddenly and violently make themselves seen, leaving Bourne with his back to the wall and desperate to save his life.
But when the two fugitives head for a would-be safe house to lie low, the action and characterisations fall off considerably. Bad guys - played by Clive Owen and Chris Cooper - aren't given enough of the action and appear merely as caricatures, while Potente is under-used.
But Damon does well with a challenging role that requires him to be a tough guy - but a bewildered one. He put on over twenty pounds in weight to play Jason Bourne, and it shows - gone is the slender, boyish Damon of The Talented Mr Ripley, to be replaced by a bulky apparition who more than once reminds of Mark Wahlberg.
Director, writer and producer Doug Liman obviously had a fight on his hands to turn the book into a movie - or maybe he simply took on too much. As the film wears on, it becomes progressively less involving. And the final scene has "James Bond Wannabe" writ large all over it.
But on balance, an excellent performance from Damon, balanced by a well-judged showing from Potente, make The Bourne Identity a watchable, frequently surprising piece of escapist film-making.