Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wanted (2008)

Going in it was impossible to think the minds behind the new action movie WANTED were going to remain completely faithful to the subversive graphic novel by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. Although the basic theme is retained (break the shackles of your conformist lifestyle to, well, kill a bunch of people), the mechanics by which the film attempts to bring the message home is wrapped in the folds of a MATRIX retread that, despite having a few inspired moments, feels like a case of "been there, done that."

James McAvoy continues to impress as an actor who can take on a broad range of roles. In WANTED he plays the nebbishy Wesley Gibson, a henpecked cubicle slave who has to swallow copious amounts of anti-anxiety medication to deal with his everyday life of a cheating, obnoxious girlfriend, the best friend she's cheating with, and the boss who emphasizes every slander with a click of her red stapler (shades of OFFICE SPACE here). He's soon picked up in a drug store by Angelina Jolie as the aptly named Fox, who tells him that's he the son of a hyper-powered assassin he never knew, and only he has the ability to track down his father's killer. She brings him to a textile mill run by Morgan Freeman, who explains that yes, it is a textile mill, and they are The Fraternity, an order of assassins existing for centuries, whose mission is to kill select people in order to save hundreds, perhaps thousands more.

Oh, and they get their assassination orders from an enormous loom called the Loom of Fate.

This is a pivotal point of the movie. Because although there are earlier moments where WANTED begins to lose some traction, this is the point of no return. If you can get past the fact that everything is determined by a machine that makes sweaters, then this movie is right up your alley. If you look over at the person sitting next to you with a "WTF!?" expression on your face, well, all I can say is join the club.

The rest of WANTED plays about as you'd expect - the obligatory training sequence, the chase for the killer, the revelation that the killer isn't actually the killer - the double-crosses and set pieces are telegraphed a mile away. Which is a shame because director Timur Bekmambetov, who previously helmed the visually stunning NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH has some great moments. The opening sequence is reminiscent of the style of his earlier films, and that personal touch appears sporadically throughout the film, helped by the obvious fun both McAvoy and Jolie are having in their roles.

Unfortunately, there's simply too much that falls flat. Morgan Freeman is once again cast playing someone with exactly the same manner so many other of his characters have exhibited over the years. And in a impressively cheap move we get a GOOD SON moment near the film's climax where Freeman's character screams out an expletive that yanks you full force out of the moment with how falsely it rings. Terence Stamp is completely wasted in a role that solely exists to get Wesley from one place to another. Common is used as scowling window dressing and that's it. The only character that gets any love is Konstantin Khabensky, who starred in both WATCH movies and here is cast as the only assassin with any type of personality, which means of course he's killed.

WANTED is a perfectly run-of-the-mill action movie that really serves no other purpose except to fill a void in a studio's summer schedule. Which is too bad because with a lot of script work and perhaps a little more free reign for Bekmambetov the message WANTED tries to impart to the audience might have had a little more impact. As it is writing up this review is causing me to like the film less and less.

Best leave it go, then. Do the same.

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