If going to the movies has taught me anything, it’s that being a spy ain’t easy. Even if the guy is a graduate of the School of Uber-spies, with perfect abs and hair streaming in the wind as the bad guys in black Mercedes come yelling in Euro accents. In fact, the more uber a spy is, the more tribulations and betrayals come his way.
Gone are the days when James Bond could dance till dawn with any number of beauties each sporting the deepest cleavage in the Western Hemisphere. Alas, spy privileges of the 21st century have been downsized. Agents work harder, run faster and put in many more hours for a whole lot less of everything, including the romance factor.
For more on this sizzling subject, check out “The Bourne Legacy,” a sort-of sequel to the “Bourne” series, which many fans agree reached its most triumphant summit with the previous (third) installment: “The Bourne Ultimatum.” With that film, protagonist Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) was embedded in my brain forever. That beady stare! That semi-smirk! Never could there be a Damonless “Bourne.”
But the unthinkable has happened. This Bourne has a new director (Tony Gilroy, of “Duplicity” and “Michael Clayton,” and screenwriter on the first three films) to replace Paul Greengrass, a new crew and a whole new guy as its centerpiece.
For the record, his name isn’t Bourne: It’s CIA agent Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner of “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”), who spends most of the film in search of meds that endow him with special powers, such as being able to forgo food, water and the occasional shower, and the ability to run up and down walls. That’s what the meds do: They allow an agent to work forever without feeling the need to dive into a Starbucks.
Unfortunately, the powers that be in Langley decide to rub Cross’ name off their employee list (don’t ask why), cutting off his pill supply and leaving him to deal with the consequences. Oh no! Without his special powers, he’s just a cute guy with a flat nose.
Toward the middle, he teams up with a doctor, Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) — also on the run from the CIA — and they hotfoot it together on some extremely narrow streets in Manila, inadvisable to navigate unless fully stripped and slathered with lubricants.
“The Bourne Legacy” sure has its moments, but until the end, it doesn’t feel like the genuine “Bourne” article. Could this be, like, a bookmark to hold the page until a new Damon-esque “Bourne” chapter comes along? You can only hope.
Another spy who has it rough is Mallory Kane (Gina Carano). In “Haywire,” she starts out right: a freelance contractor who is hired out by a handler to perform various jobs around the globe. No strings, no hassle, no betrayal, since there’s no agency brass to worry about.
Impossibly hot guys of varying ages are strewn along her path on exotically located assignments: Aaron (Channing Tatum), Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), Paul (Michael Fassbender), Alex (Michael Douglas) — and to top it off, Mallory’s adoring dad is played by a nicely weathered Bill Paxton. I’m betting not even Mata Hari had a life so man-packed. What more can a girl possibly wish for?
Alas, Mallory may look like she has it made, but most of these guys turn out to be scum-of-the-earth types, a mystery man has put out a contract on her and she has no female friends in her life to hash things out with. Bummer.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who pitches the tone between his films “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) and “Kafka” (1991), this is a quality spy tale unfolding in a strictly 21st-century environment (read: practically no personal life whatsoever).
Mallory is strong, smart and gorgeous in the tradition of characters portrayed by like-minded Hollywood beauties Jodie Foster and Linda Fiorentino (Carano was a mixed martial arts fighter before switching careers). Work and working out come first. Family, second. Everything else is middle to bottom of the agenda, no matter how many hunks come pounding on the door.
Consequently it’s all nonstop action athletics for Mallory, who, like Aaron Cross in “Bourne,” never stops for a five-minute break, much less to sit down for a meal. On the other hand, that’s definitely how the boys like her. She can beat the crap out of every last one of them, and they positively seem to swoon when she actually proceeds to do so.
Tatum’s Aaron (who happens to be Mallory’s ex, and he’s not the only one in the lineup) can give as good as he gets, but the brainy, scheming Kenneth sports a sadomasochistic streak that practically begs for a cobra twist from Mallory, preferably when she’s in her favorite outfit of head-to-toe black leather. Mallory may be work-addicted but hey, she aims to please.