Dir: Paul Greengrass. US. 2004. 109 mins.

Two years ago, it was indie director Doug Liman who turned Robert Ludlumadaptation The Bourne Identity into a surprise summer hit forUniversal. Now British director Paul Greengrass, who previously made festivalprize-winning docudrama Bloody Sunday, gets his chance for a mainstreamUS breakthrough with sequel The Bourne Supremacy, a gripping if slightlymechanical international spy thriller based on Ludlum's 1986 follow-up noveland once again starring Matt Damon in the title role.

Opening in the US this week with the backing of a big advertising campaign, thefast paced sequel should be able to beat the first film's domestic gross of$121.5m. In the international marketplace, where it rolls out in August and September,the sequel may be able to top the first film's $92.1m, especially since thefirst film has built a strong worldwide following on TV and DVD.

The curiously diminished role for Franka Potente (the German co-star of theoriginal film) isn't the only big change made to the novel, the second ofLudlum's three books featuring amnesiac former CIA assassin Jason Bourne.

Ditching the novel's Cold War background and Chinese setting, scriptwriter TonyGilroy (co-screenwriter of The Bourne Identity) places most of thefilm's action in Berlin and Moscow, where CIA spymasters tangle with a shadowyRussian oil tycoon. Since evading 'liquidation' by his former bosses in thefirst film, Bourne (Damon) has been hiding out in India and trying to start anew life with girlfriend Marie (Potente), the German drifter he met in theearlier story. However, when he is tracked down by a Russian hit man andmysteriously framed for the murder of two American agents, Bourne gives up hishopes for a quiet life and heads back to Europe. The trip returns him to thescene of a vaguely-remembered CIA assignment that went horribly wrong andforces him back into his former role as a highly-trained and clinicallyefficient operative.

Even in its simplified movie form, the plot has threads that are tricky tofollow and don't intertwine until late in the story. But the relentless paceimposed by Greengrass makes a virtue out of confusion and carries the filmthrough until the plot comes more into focus. When the pace does ease off fromtime to time it often gives way to nicely taut scenes that pit Bourne's steelynerve against the panicky responses of the spy bosses who originally trainedhim.

Fight scenes are thinner on the ground in the sequel and when they do occur thefirst film's martial arts flavour is replaced by a more brutal realism. Thechase sequences - several on foot and a couple in cars -- produce some realvisceral thrills, particularly in the film's big set piece, a brilliantlystaged, crowd-pleasing demolition derby that screeches through thetraffic-clogged streets of Moscow.

As he did so successfully in the modestly budgeted Bloody Sunday,Greengrass, who got his start in TV documentaries, makes extensive use ofhand-held cameras and tight editing to convey a sense of immediacy. Thedocumentary style occasionally seems incongruous and sometimes gets wearing, onthe eye and on the mind. But it also gives the film a distinctive feel thatshould open doors for Greengrass in Hollywood. (Liman is an executive producerthis time out.)

The film's main weakness is that the emphasis on pace and action leaves littleroom for humour or emotion, elements that were supplied sparingly but quiteeffectively in the first film, mainly by Potente's Marie. The emotion that doesseep in comes in the form of empathy for the psychologically tortured Bourne,who in one surprisingly touching scene apologises to the Russian daughter oftwo of his victims.

Damon seems even better suited to the Bourne role here than he did in the firstfilm, giving the character an appealing mix of stoicism and vulnerability.Veteran British character actor Cox (as Bourne's old CIA handler) and US starStiles (as a sympathetic former colleague) are back from the first film'ssupporting cast, though talents including Chris Cooper and Clive Owen do notreturn. The most notable new names in the sequel are Allen (from TheContender), who is underused as a rising spy chief, and New Zealander Urban(The Lord of the Rings), as the hunky Russian hit man on Bourne's trail.

Locations are used effectively but with a restraint that helps the film avoidcliche: the Indian backpacker resort of Goa sets a relatively tranquil tone atthe start of the story, Berlin helps ramp up the intrigue and Moscow provides acold, hard backdrop for the climax. Top-notch cinematography, editing and music(mostly by below the line talents returning from the first film) add to theproduction's classy sheen.

Prod cos: Universal Pictures, MP Theta Productions, The Kennedy/MarshallCompany, Ludlum Entertainment.
Dists: Universal (US), UIP (intl).
Prods: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley, Paul L Sandberg.
Exec prods: Doug Liman, Jeffrey M Weiner, Henry Morrison.
Scr: Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum.
Director of Photography: Oliver Wood.
Prod des: Dominic Watkins.
Eds: Christopher Rouse, Richard Pearson.
Music: John Powell.
Main cast: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban,Gabriel Mann, Joan Allen.