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Friday, Jan. 11, 2013
There's one Bourne every minute
By KAORI SHOJI
There's an irresistable temptation to describe "The Expatriate" as a discount version of the Jason Bourne series. Pretty much the whole package indicates it's the same product in a different wrapper: You get the handsome CIA agent; the exotic European location; the order issued from Langley to rub out or arrest said handsome agent, for muddled reasons; the pileup of bodies and cars; and the artistically choreographed explosions, standard fare for 21st-century action movies.
These are all there, and "The Expatriate" even offers a bit more: a father-daughter story that recalls another similar series, "Taken." In short, if "The Expatriate" isn't a knockoff, end-of-the-season sale item, it's a buy-one-get-one-free thing. Like, get two genre-driven action spy thrillers for the price of one, sort of. Emphasis on the "sort of."
Still, "The Expatriate" does have an agenda to call its own, and a potentially powerful one. Aaron Eckhart ("The Dark Knight," "Thank You For Smoking") stars as Ben Logan, an ex-CIA agent who has knocked about in Europe for years, speaks five languages and has killed more people than he'd care to remember. Back in the U.S. Logan has a family he hardly ever thinks about, but then his wife dies and estranged teenage daughter Amy (Liana Liberato) shows up to lay claim on his time and support. Logan thinks he can do it. He's now a respectable employee of a highly esteemed company specializing in locks. Amy need never know about his past as a spy, so how hard could it be?
One morning Logan walks into the office to find that everything and everyone has vanished from the face of the Earth. Panicked, he asks people working in the same building and they all stare at him blankly; there never was such a company. He visits headquarters and no one has any idea what he's talking about. Logan's work files have been erased as well as his payment records. His entire existence has gone up in smoke. To make it official someone is trying to kill him too, and Logan has no choice but to revert to his former espionage and combat skills to stay alive.
This turn of events (understandably) freaks the daylights out of Amy, who grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood. She witnesses dad's prowess in gunning down men in black suits, his fluency in Russian. "What father can do those things?" she wails. Worse, she's too resentful and confused to cooperate with her dad, much less be of any help at this point. Before long, the chasers grab her as collateral and to get her back, Logan is forced to kill more people than he had bargained for.
On the one hand, you understand where Amy is coming from. After all, she's a sheltered teenager who had no interest in hanging out in Brussels cafes or being driven around with screeching tires, dodging bullets. Naturally, she wants to go home and seek solace in the latest episode of "Real Housewives" or similar, poor girl. On the other hand, you want to sit her down in a hard chair and wag your finger and yell at her. She has a world-traveling, muscle-bound, handsome espionage expert for a father, and she's complaining?
Sadly, however, Amy never gets around to giving her dad the credit he deserves. Not that it bothers Logan very much: He's got his own huge problems, mainly in the form of Anna Brandt (Olga Kurylenko, "Quantum of Solace"), his girlfriend in his CIA days who has now been sent by the higher powers at Langley to nab or kill him (it's never really clear). Or maybe she wants to help? Anna's motives are tinged with about 45 shades of gray, but when a woman is this gorgeously watchable, it's hard to care whether she's bad or good, as long as the director (Philipp Stolzl, best known for "Young Goethe in Love") puts her in as many scenes as possible.
Unfortunately she's around a lot less than you'd hope for, and Anna, after an impressive entrance and some intriguing closeups, turns out to be a joyless, true-to-type type. In another decade or two Kurylenko will replace Vanessa Redgrave and wind up playing M in a 007 movie, heavily coiffed and sporting that lovely guttural Russian accent. One only prays Justin Bieber isn't Bond. I mean, talk about slashing value price.