Affleck, Damon work best together

Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are two pretty-boy actors often linked because of their past. In addition to being old friends, the pair came into the limelight together as co-stars and co-writers of "Good Will Hunting," a movie for which they won an Oscar.

For this reason, and no other, I'd like to look at the latest releases from both actors, as the Tiger Beat-friendly yuppies step into the roles of heroic leading men.

Affleck steps into the formidable shoes of Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan in "The Sum of All Fears," and Damon plays the tough, forgetful spy Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Identity."

In "The Sum of All Fears," Affleck is a CIA analyst who gets pulled into an escalating tension between the United States and Russia and eventually becomes the only man on the planet who can prevent nuclear war. The story is interesting, with Affleck unravelling a mystery as the Super Powers unravel and plummet toward nuclear holocaust.

The cast is jam-packed with great character actors who play their powerful roles to perfection; James Cromwell and Morgan Freeman are invaluable, as always, to giving the weight of reality to their scenes.

Affleck, however, is a different story. With his boyish looks, unkempt hair and unintimidating screen presence, he does not pull off the heroic lead well at all. He seems completely out of his element, and the fact that such a milquetoasty young man saves the world removes credibility from the picture.

The most hilarious example occurs during a big fist fight about three-quarters through the movie. After trading blows, Affleck stands up to see his attacker charging at him like an animal. His utterly convincing response is to throw up his hand and cry, "Wait!" But he did not ask for a time out, so I suppose it could have been more pathetic.

Damon fairs much better in "The Bourne Identity." He is an assassin who wakes up with bullets in his back, blood on his hands (in a metaphoric sense) and a complete lack of memory. He retraces his steps, trying to uncover his identity and figure out why he knows 12 languages and can beat up nine cops without batting an eye. His old employers (who appear to be working from Jack Ryan's CIA office) send out a batch of other assassins to kill him before he can develop a conscience.

This is all pretty standard stuff - Geena Davis worked with the same plot in "The Long Kiss Goodnight," as did Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Total Recall" - and "The Bourne Identity" does a solid, if lackluster, job of working the material past its freshness date.

The film's first hour was excellent. The pacing was brisk, the car chases and fight scenes energetic and exciting, and the trendy techno score and MTV-style visuals made it something a little different from the average spy film. But the second hour brings it to a crashing bore of stop. The second half of the film is pedestrian and run-of-the-mill.

Affleck was bad in a pretty good movie, but Matt Damon is actually very good in a much worse movie.

In 1997's "Good Will Hunting," Damon stars as Hunting, a genius who views himself as so blue-collar that to acknowledge his own brilliance would be tantamount to turning traitor. Affleck co-stars as the buddy who encourages him to exploit his natural talent. Rewind darling Minnie Driver is the love interest, and Rewind whipping boy Robin Williams does some of his best acting as Damon's intellectual mentor.

"Good Will Hunting" is an excellent movie. That it propelled Damon and Affleck to such fame (and Williams to the best reviews of his career) is a testament to its quality. It is a drama, a love story, but I don't hold either of those things against it. Unlike most movies, "Good Will Hunting" is honest, clever and sympathetic. Highly recommended.

Still, the best acting work Damon and Affleck have done is in the film "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," where they play themselves on the set of "Good Will Hunting 2." Portrayed with malevolent glee as money-grubbing sell-outs with a taste for prostitutes, somehow the roles just seem more natural than The Guy Who Saves the World.

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