Director : Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay : Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan (story by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas; based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : James McAvoy (Wesley Gibson), Morgan Freeman (Sloan), Angelina Jolie (Fox), Terence Stamp (Pekwarsky), Thomas Kretschmann (Cross), Common (Gunsmith), Kristen Hager (Cathy), Marc Warren (The Repairman), David O'Hara (Mr. X), Konstantin Khabensky (The Exterminator), Dato Bakhtadze (The Butcher), Chris Pratt (Barry), Lorna Scott (Janice), Sophiya Haque (Puja), Brad Calcaterra (Assassin Max Petridge)
There is an infectious absurdity to Wanted that you can't help but admire. Based on a comic book series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, it posits the idea of an ultra-secret group of assassins called The Fraternity that has existed for 1,000 years to maintain order in society by killing those who threaten too much disorder. How do they know who to kill? No kidding: The names are given by Fate itself, which communicates through the weave patterns in cloth spun by a giant loom in The Fraternity's headquarters (the original assassins were weavers, natch). Even more importantly, only certain people can be members of The Fraternity because you must possess extraordinary, superhuman, Matrix-like abilities, which consist of pulling off feats that defy all the laws of physics like leaping hundreds of feet between buildings and being able to bend the trajectory of bullets when you fire a gun, sometimes 90 degrees around corners.
Obviously, not everyone can do this, which means that it's passed down genetically. However, you have to have someone point out your potential, which is why the next-generation assassin Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a pathetically nebbish office drone at the beginning of the movie. Screenwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma) and Chris Morgan (Cellular) clearly had a great deal of fun penning the film's opening passages, which establish a cheeky, anything-goes tone and sense of humor in depicting just how lousy Wesley's life is. Driven down by panic attacks, repetitive stress injuries, his aggressively boorish boss (Lorna Scott), his obnoxious live-in girlfriend (Kristen Hager), and his supposed best friend (Chris Bratt) who is having an affair with his obnoxious live-in girlfriend, Wesley makes the miserable sad-sacks in Office Space (1999) look like portraits of absolute contentment. Wesley is so pathetic he even imagines the ATM mocking his lack of funds.
One day at the grocery story (he's picking up yet another bottle of his prescription anxiety medication), Wesley is approached by Fox (Angelina Jolie), who informs him that the father he never knew, a member of The Fraternity, has been killed and that he is next. As if to prove the point, Wesley is quickly enmeshed in a shootout between Fox and Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), a member of The Fraternity who has gone rogue and is apparently dead-set on killing his former associates. Wesley is then inducted into The Fraternity, with all necessary information being intoned with grave seriousness by the leader, Sloan (Morgan Freeman), while his training comes courtesy of the other members of the group (which include Common as a gunsmith and Dato Bakhtadze as a knife expert). How exactly is one trained to be a superhuman assassin who can bend bullets? Apparently, by enduring as much pain as possible. In what can only be described as a brutal parody of movie training montages, Wesley is put through the paces of being beaten, gouged, beaten some more, slapped around, beaten some more, et cetera. Luckily, The Fraternity has access to special baths that immediately heal all wounds, otherwise he would be spending all his time in the hospital.
The rest of the film traces Wesley's vengeance-fueled pursuit of Cross, the father-killer, which eventually leads to some narrative-twisting discoveries that turn the last 20 minutes into a virtual free-for-all. The film itself is something of an aesthetic and narrative free-for-all, hinging entirely on the audience's willingness to jump on the ride and never question anything. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) is making his Hollywood debut, and he shows a deft balance between violence and comedy, while cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen (Transformers) pours on the inky sepia and darkness. Bekmambetov also demonstrates a real affinity for taking bullet-time digital effects to ridiculously grisly new highs in treating us to the sight of bullets entering and existing bodies in extreme slow motion, which affords the rare opportunity to admire the spiraling paths of blood and viscera exiting the body. (Did I mention this film might not be for everyone?)
With all the physics-defying, mind-bending, car-crashing visuals on-screen, it's quite amazing that the actors aren't completely lost. James McAvoy (Adaptation) manages a workable American accent, although his biggest accomplishment is to be convincing as both a complete loser and a fully functional badass. Having long since mastered the art of being a live-action cartoon, Angelina Jolie struts and smirks and glares from the corners of the frame, and Morgan Freeman gives Sloan his trademark gravitas, which is just the right counterbalance to the film's general lunacy. The utterly derivative nature of Wanted, both visually and narratively, certainly drags it down a few notches, but it can't quite erase the giddy pleasure it imparts.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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