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TV Review : 'Bourne Identity' Unmasked : Robert Ludlum's Tale Stumbles Onto All-Too-Predictable Turf

May 07, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

You start out believing that "The Bourne Identity" will be wonderful fun, and some of it is: a two-part ABC rendering (9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) of one more Robert Ludlum novel about, yes, "murder, greed and passion." The meat of our lives, agreed?

Ludlum is a fine technician who tells a great story. After being shot twice at point-blank range at sea, a man (Richard Chamberlain) washes ashore in France, where he is treated by a drunken doctor (Denholm Elliott) who tells him he has had extensive cosmetic surgery.

The man knows from nothing. While he suffers from amnesia, his search for his identity leads him to a Zurich bank and a multimillion-dollar account whose identification number has been surgically implanted in his hip.

It is in Zurich where our amnesiac discovers that his name is Jason Bourne. Or is he really the international terrorist Carlos? Or is he even really Bourne? That's the mystery. Maybe he's not Richard Chamberlain, either?

It's all looking pretty interesting and worth a 4-hour investment until the apparent Bourne checks into a Zurich hotel and finds in the lobby . . . the voice, the face, it could be, it may be, it has to be: Jaclyn Smith, playing economist Marie St. Jacques.

This is a fanciful if not Disneyesque pairing. Discovering Smith opposite a credible hero such as Chamberlain in a potentially good thriller is like attending an opera where Carmen turns out to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Not that Ludlum is much good at romance anyway, compared with intrigue. Bourne spends the first part of this relationship proving that he is impossible to kill. Meanwhile, St. Jacques becomes the story's squealing Mr. Bill, getting squished, squooshed and generally trampled as Bourne drags her around like a rag doll, leading to the inevitable gratuitous love scene. It's slow and artificially poetic, like a theatrical movie circa 1960. The only difference is that he hits the sack wearing trousers, she in a lacy spandex body suit. Ah, television.

Written by Carol Sobieski and directed by Roger Young, "The Bourne Identity" is highlighted by glamorous international exteriors, occasional moderate suspense and nice work by the dashing Chamberlain as the apparent political assassin with a heart of gold.

Eclipsing much of that is a script with slogging predictability and a preposterous finale that plays rather like an out-of-body experience. In any event, you'll wish your body wasn't there to experience it.

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