Thursday, July 03, 2008

Film Review - WANTED: Blood, Guts, Bullets & Octane!

Have you ever see a film that, early into the viewing, had you shaking your head in incredulity? They don’t really think I’m dumb enough to enjoy this, do they? But then, lacking the will to walk out and demand a refund, you surrender to the inanity and slowly begin to enjoy yourself and even, dare I say, feel an increasing glow of admiration for whoever concocted the bizarre clap-trap of ridiculousness before you?

Well, I had such an experience watching the hyper-violent Wanted, the 129th graphic novel adaptation to be released this month alone (I kid!). It raised my awareness of a secret group of assassins who have been covertly working right under our noses, corrupting societal order, for the last thousand years. I know! I was as surprised as you are!

Equally as shocked is young Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), a corporate drone in near-suicidal Dilbert mode. His life just plain sucks. He’s broke and he hates his job, where his shrewish boss sadistically emasculates him. Even worse, his conniving girlfriend is cheating on him with his loser best friend. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, a mystery woman named Fox (Angelina Jolie) shows up in a pharmacy and saves him from the deadly killer Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), who apparently offed Wesley’s super-assassin father. Before long, our young hero is persuaded to join The Fraternity, a secret assassin squad run by Morgan Freeman (Aren’t they all nowadays?). Despite having to go through a strict regimen of facial beatings, stabbings and gruesome bodily mutilations, Wesley is soon a bad-ass gunman who can “curve the bullet”, which is a pretty nifty skill and even groovier special effect. Given the assignment of taking out Cross, Wesley soon finds the metaphorical tables turned, and then must decide who to trust, who to kill, and exactly how many stray rats to blow up. I’m not making that last part up, either.

Look, it’s clear from the get-go that Wanted has very few intelligent ideas in its pretty little head. The film’s secret weapon though, is Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) who has never found a shot he couldn’t improve through sheer kinetic loopiness. There is a car chase early in the picture, with McAvoy driving a red Ferrari and Jolie laying across the hood unloading multiple firearms, which ups the ante on outrageous car-chases. My other favourite moment, a smaller one, is a scene where Wesley smashes a keyboard across an opponent’s face and stray keys fly towards the screen in slow-motion, spelling out an obscenity. While the overabundance of hyperactivity grows a tad stale by the end, I can always find respect for an action movie that shows me something new.

James McAvoy proves himself to be a surprisingly effective action hero. I’ve been unimpressed with most of his prior work, but his commanding presence here has me hoping that’ll he’ll apply this new charismatic approach to future work. Angelina Jolie plays the male fantasy version of Angelina Jolie, beating the snot out of people and looking devilishly seductive at the same time. Morgan Freeman does the umpteenth variation on his typical mentor role, but at least gets to toss off some F-bombs which are actually more shocking than the film’s creative carnage.

I suspect most thrill-junkies are going to have a great time with Wanted. It’s almost two hours of mindless stylized death that leaves you giggling as you walk out of the theatre doors. However, it’s done skilfully and with a level of originality that earns it a recommendation. Now I’d really like to see what Bekmambetov can do with a script that doesn’t involve detonating vermin...

3 out of 5

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