Sunday, October 5, 2008


Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, with two landmark horror movies "Night Watch" and its 2006 sequel "Day Watch" under his belt, makes his theatrical English-language film debut with the jolting new Angelina Jolie epic "Wanted" (** out of ****), an imaginative, audacious, but improbable hyperkinetic actioneer with Morgan Freeman and James McAvoy. Ostensibly, scenarists Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who wrote the "3:10 to Yuma" remake and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" scribe Chris Morgan have adapted Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' Dark Horse graphic novel. Bekmambetov and his writers, however, have appropriated only the set-up from the graphic novel and replaced the graphic novel plot about a fraternity of super villains with a plot about a fraternity about elite assassins that safeguard the balance between good and evil in society. Audiences that have seen either "Night Watch" or "Day Watch" will have no problem enjoying this high-octane, adrenaline-laced thriller. Meanwhile, people who prefer that their movies to conform to the laws of gravity will dismiss "Wanted" as preposterously unrealistic to the point a Coyote & Road Runner cartoon.

Essentially, "Wanted" takes its cues for its protagonist from "Fight Club" and "The Matrix." Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy of "Atonement") toils as a cubicle worker in a dead-end job with an obese female boss, Janice (Lorna Scott of "Smokin' Aces"), who constantly berates him without mercy for his inferior job performance between the bites that she takes out of a jelly-filled doughnut. When she is in a good mood, Janice drives Wesley crazy with a stapler that she wields like a baton. Wesley suffers from panic attacks, and Janice's rosy disposition triggers these attacks. If Janice isn't the source of his woes, Wesley has to contend with his blond, drop-dead gorgeous, live-in girlfriend, Kathy (Kristen Hager of "AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem") who is cheating on him with his best friend, Barry (Chris Pratt of "Strangers with Candy"), while Wesley is at work.

One day, Wesley's life changes when he stops by the local pharmacy to refill his meds. One minute he is standing there alone and the next minute, he finds a woman named Fox (an anorexic Angelina Jolie of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" with too much eye-liner) telling him that he apologizes too much. Not long after Wesley meets Fox, a gunfight erupts in the drug store as Cross (Thomas Kretschmann of "Blade 2") starts blasting away at Wesley and Fox. Our hero and heroine make a hair-raising escape. They become separated as they scramble out of the pharmacy and Wesley finds himself about to get run down by Cross in a step-van when Fox executes a 360 spin—'the bootlegger's spin—and sweeps him into her car. After an implausible but exciting car with Cross and Fox shooting it out in night-time urban traffic, our hero and heroine pull off a gravity-defying stunt that only Evel Knievel could have dreamed up.

Fox takes Wesley to her hideout where an organization called 'The Fraternity' operates a textile factory. She introduces him to Sloane (an immaculately dressed Morgan Freeman of "Unforgiven" with a thumb ring) and Sloane reveals to a shocked Wesley that his father was the best hit-man in the Fraternity until another loose cannon killer, Cross, blew his brains out. Wesley is shocked first because his father abandoned him not long after his mother gave birth to him and two that Sloane has just transferred a million dollar balance into his bank account that once belonged to his dad. Sloane and Fox want to train Wesley to replace not only his father but also to exact revenge and kill the evil Cross.

Again, nothing about "Wanted" is remotely believable. Some movies contain the illusion of credibility, but "Wanted" throws all restraint to the wind and Bekmambetov orchestrates one ridiculous stunt after another until the movie runs out of suspense and thrives simply on white-knuckled thrills and computer-generated stunts. The acting is solid enough with McAvoy turning in a charismatic performance as a loser who becomes a hero. Angelina Jolie surpasses anything that she did in her two "Tomb Raider" movies and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." Things get really outlandish for her when she sprawls out on the hood of a car careening through traffic so that she can get a clear shot at Cross in the step-van pursuing them. Morgan Freeman does what he does better than anybody else. He explains half of the plot. According to him, the Fraternity is an age-old organization of weavers that take their orders from the Loom of Fate. They scrutinize the way that the loom weaves threads and decipher who must die for the preservation of society.

Like most summer movies, the best way to enjoy "Wanted" is to forget the way that it fragrantly and repeatedly violates the laws of gravity. Wesley, our hero, has a knack for literally slinging bullets around objects to hit his intended victim. In short, he slings his gun arm as if he were hurling a bowling ball through the air, and he can hit a target that is hidden from his eyes. The computer-generated graphics of the villain's baroque-looking bullet that separates in phases like a booster powered missile and perforates a man's forehead looks truly awesome. "Wanted" has one of those last-minute reversals that will catch you totally off guard and blow your mind. Perhaps the closest thing to "Wanted" is a 1969 melodrama called "The Assassination Bureau" with Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed.

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