July 3, 2008


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Wanted (R)
An angry James McAvoy and a standard-issue Angelina Jolie blow stuff up and drive snazzy cars really fast in Wanted, a cheese-coated violence-soaked goofily earnest action movie.

Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) has a particularly bad case of the Mondays — a depression about his cubicle-centered life with a supercharge of anxiety attack whenever confronted by his evil boss or the thought of his cheating girlfriend. Like all good losers with another destiny, however, Gibson finds a way out of this hum-drum-ness with the appearance of Fox (Jolie), an assassin who is part of the Fraternity, a group of assassins who have existed for 1,000 years and are all awesome and stuff. (There’s some nonsense about textiles and looms of fate or whatever but feel free to go get a refill on your soda during that part because it really doesn’t matter.) One of the signs of their awesomeness is the ability to curve bullets — which also kind of doesn’t make sense (good aim would seem to be enough) but it makes for some pretty swell kill shoots, such as a bullet reaching a guy’s head from blocks away and several dozen floors lower or Wesley shooting a guy in a meeting room from the roof of a moving train (the shot you can see in the trailers). Though Wesley doesn’t know if he totally buys in to the “we kill people because Fate tells us to” argument, Sloan (Morgan Freeman, playing the Morgan Freeman character — the godly-voiced mentor) is pretty good at convincing him to give his destiny a shot. And while Wesley isn’t sure if he can muster the shooting-around-stuff skill, he is really liking the swagger that comes with this new purpose to his life.

The biggest problems in this Roman candle of a movie come when the story starts to take all this bullet-curving and butt-kicking seriously. No, movie, don’t tell me about McAvoy’s moral dilemmas or Jolie’s motivation. If I wanted angst I’d watch something comparatively more serious, like Iron Man or Kung Fu Panda. I want bad-ass attitudes and completely improbable violence. When the movie is showing a guy’s head getting pierced by a bullet traveling a serpentine path over half the city, I’m interested. When the movie tries to give some kind of dramatic significance to the firing of that bullet, I’m lost in thought over which, Twizzlers or Reese’s Pieces, is a less harmful snack, health-wise. (Twizzlers claims to be low-fat while the peanut butter in the Reese’s Pieces offers some marginal amount of protein. Oh the drama.)

Look, Timur Bekmambetov, James McAvoy already bored me with his sullenness in Atonement and Jolie gave a nod to seriousness with the her early career Girl, Interrupted performance. You keep your meaning and you give me more ker-pow and bang bang. (Hmm, I wonder if those DVD players meant to remove sex and violence from movies could be programmed to block out “unnecessary and unconvincing attempts at character development.”)

When it forgets to be about something, however, Wanted is about as much stupid fun as a non-superhero, non-Die Hard action movie has been in a while. Jolie is great a sultry assassin; Freeman is excellent as the Morgan Freeman character (who enjoys a moment of Samuel L. Jackson-ness via excellent use of a compound swear word). McAvoy looks appropriately frazzled and appropriately arrogant and just generally lets all the explosions and bullets be the star.

Want something healthy? Eat a carrot. Want some good junk food fun? Here’s your guilty pleasure. B-

Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan (from the comic by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones), Wanted is an hour and 48 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal.