'The Bourne Legacy' is a movie suffering an existential crisis. It only exists because the 'Bourne' movies – the REAL 'Bourne' movies – made a lot of dough and were generally well received by critics. I'm no Hollywood insider but my understanding is that Matt Damon either respectfully declined to do a fourth installment at any cost, or the studio saw his asking price and figured it would make more sense to try a 'Bourne' movie without him. (Damon has a nice official story, saying he'd only reprise the role with Paul Greengrass at the helm.)

Even though the franchise's releases were spaced the same as 'Spider-Man' (2002, 2004, 2007) it would have been absurd to go for a full Hollywood reboot. (The fifty years of Spidey comics made 'The Amazing Spider-Man' only partially, not completely, ridiculous.) So they did the next best thing and created a “sidequel.” The unfortunate thing is that this pretzel logic leaves 'The Bourne Legacy' shifting between two speeds: anti-climactic and confusing.

Still, there are a number of good sequences in this film and Jeremy Renner is a fantastic pick to play a genetically enhanced assassin. However, the painful stretch the movie makes to be a part of the already successful series, as well as some tone-deaf moves on its own, becomes too many hurdles for this super soldier to jump. If this movie were its own animal it would have a shot at being good. Its franchise contortions ruin it.

Unless you go to 'The Bourne Legacy' immediately after watching 'The Bourne Ultimatum,' it will be impossible for you to make heads or tails out of the new film's first thirty minutes. I don't mind being strung along by a screenplay that is one step ahead of me – but in this case it isn't all leading to a miraculous reveal. It is a case of marketing execs demanding that there be as much Matt Damon in the film without actually having Matt Damon.

I think it is also a case of producers thinking too highly of their own financial successes. Yeah, the 'Bourne' pictures are fun, but that's because there's a lot of running and kicking and Moby jams. The 'Bourne' mythos is hardly anything I've spent much time thinking about since 2007, so I found myself mumbling an “um” and a “wait” and an “is David Straitharin a good guy or a bad guy?” when I was supposed to be engrossed in an ever tightening noose of intrigue.

There's not a whit of empathy for any of the characters. Not Renner's “new” Bourne, or even Rachel Weisz as the scared physician whose chromosomal tinkering has led to Renner's dependency on green and blue pills.

The story goes like this: Matt Damon is out causing such a fuss during the last movie that the secret government division in charge of Bourne-like killers decides they need to execute order 66, or initiate ghost protocol, or whatever you want to call it. They're able to wipe most of 'em out by swapping their green and blue pills for a yellow one (poison!) but Renner is up in Alaska training and, well, next thing you know he's blowing up wolves and harming low-level rent-a-cops in self-defense.

So what's with these pills? Actually, they're not that dissimilar from Ketracel-white from 'Deep Space Nine.' If you recall, the Dominion kept their Jem'Hadar soldiers addicted to space smack. Here, the killers in the field take green pills to make them faster, bigger, stronger and the blue pills to make them smarter, sharper, more alert.

Renner, hunted by his own superiors, kidnaps/saves Weisz because he thinks she has access to more pills. Turns out the physical effect has become permanent (of he has mixed feelings, because he wasn't asked!) but if he doesn't take another blue pill soon his mental edge will vanish.

Turns out this is a bigger deal than you might think, because you learn that the pre-super soldier Renner was actually... a moron! So it's basically 'Flowers for Algernon' with Krav Maga.

There are other story twists that are equally dopey, but the one that takes the cake is the big “raise the stakes” moment of the third act. Normally I wouldn't give a plot point from so deep in the film away, but, trust me, I'm not taking the edge off of any impact – other than laughing at the movie. Dig:

Imagine you've spent two hours with Edward Norton as he furiously tries to kill anyone and anything connected to his super spy program. But he can't catch Renner! So when all hope is lost, he turns to his associate and agrees they should “call in Larx.” Turns out that Larx is just another one of these mutated spies. But the whole point of the movie is that he has to get rid of them all!

This dude Larx has no lines, wears sunglasses and is a killing machine. Except he comes in right at the end, offers no real threat, and winds up dying by getting shoved off of his Kawasaki by Rachel Weisz. Least heroic death ever.

The Damon films, while hardly masterpieces, had an existential edge to them. They were pure, propulsive, nightmare paranoia. This film has a dreamlike feeling to it, too – one of those frustrating dreams where you can't quite make the pieces fit together logically. You kinda-sorta can hum along, but the specifics are jumbled.

Nevertheless, 'The Bourne Legacy,' for all of its macro and micro faults, does have three or so truly nifty action sequences. I strongly endorse catching them out of context as you are flipping channels.

'The Bourne Legacy' hits theaters Friday, August 10th.

Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.