WANTED Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan from the comic series by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, with James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and Terence Stamp. 110 minutes. A Universal release. Opens Friday (June 27). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN
As big, bombastic actioners go, this one is right up there, not quite in the same league as last year’s Shoot ’Em Up or 2006’s Crank, but miles ahead of Iron Man and the Indiana Jones retread, thanks to director Timur Bekmambetov’s total disdain for anything resembling reality.
Remember in Day Watch, the car driving along the side of the high-rise and parking in the living room? Bekmambetov has more ideas like that, beginning with the backwards bullet trajectory and our hero’s heavily medicated POV shots.
Things escalate nicely with some gleefully gravity-?defying chases and a fun gimmick called “bending bullets” that is utterly ridiculous and weirdly plausible at the same time. It’s also the first new thing anybody’s done with gunplay since 1980s John Woo.
Tragically, the whoopee peaks around the midpoint, and the gags start repeating. The last act, which should be the most intense, steps down a notch. But only a small one.
Apart from the dubious moral that it’s better to be an assassin than an office worker, the story’s not bad. Apathetic cube monkey Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is yanked out of his life and into a thousand-year-old guild of assassins who call themselves agents of fate and take their orders from an industrial loom. (And I mean that literally.) Wesley wants to avenge his father’s murder. They have other plans. Betrayals ensue.
McAvoy has to carry the show by himself, and he does a fine job. He’s good with the funny lines, and with his alert eyes and weak mouth reminiscent of John Cusack’s, he’s ideal for the chicken-hearted hero.
Angelina Jolie plays Fox, Wesley’s partner and trainer, and she lets her eyeshadow do the acting. Intense neutrality may be perfect for your basic assassin, but it’s dead boring to watch. Likewise Morgan Freeman, the outfit’s chief, works his standard avuncular persona. It’s not the actors’ fault; neither has much of a character to play.
That puts the movie’s emotional high in the first act. The preview audience cheered when wormboy Wesley finally turns on his overbearing boss and the obnoxious best friend who’s banging his girlfriend. Lorna Scott, the boss, and Chris Pratt, the friend, deliver great comic caricatures.
Between the comedy and the action, check out Bekmambetov’s visual style: the Mario Bava-style lighting in the guild headquarters, the visual and aural rhythms in the industrial loom sequence, the constant flow of throwaway visual jokes. He even makes a point of highlighting the texture of a floor, just for fun.