The Bourne Ultimatum
Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Albert Finney | PG-13 |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

THRILLER

On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno recently, Matt Damon said he was flummoxed during his Bourne Ultimatum publicity tour by scads of entertainment-news bunnies asking him who'd win in a showdown between Jason Bourne, the CIA-trained killer whom Damon is playing for a third time, and English master spy James Bond. Far be it from me to pick which fictional character has the more lethal karate chop, but when it comes to the quality of their movies, it's an easy call: Bourne rules.

What makes the Bourne films so exceptional—besides a pervasive paranoia-filled world view—are smart scripts, seat-clutching chases, blistering editing, distinctively jittery camera work and Damon's intense performances. These elements are all spectacularly on view in Ultimatum, again deftly directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy). This time out, the amnesia-afflicted Bourne is determined to find the secret behind his identity even as the CIA brass, ruling him a danger to national security, want him dead. His quest has him hopscotching between Moscow, Paris, London and New York City, fighting off would-be assassins at every turn. It's heart-pumping stuff, doing what movies do at their best: transporting you even as you sit safely in your theater seat.

El Cantante

Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony | R |

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BIOPIC

Jennifer Lopez chews the scenery so ferociously in El Cantante, you almost expect to see bite marks in the sofas and chairs. Her look-at-me performance as Puchi Lavoe throws badly out of balance a movie that is supposed to be telling the real-life story of Puchi's husband, Héctor Lavoe (Anthony, who mostly just hides behind tinted glasses), a Puerto Rican-born singer who lit up salsa in the late 1960s and '70s. It's a tale all too familiar from similar showbiz films: humble beginnings, early success and then a sad decline due to drugs and hard living. The bright spot here is the music. The concert scenes, with Anthony (a huge musical star in his own right) singing as Lavoe, have energy and heat to spare.