3 stars (out of 5)
Cast: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie,
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Industry rating: R for strong bloody violence
throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality
By Roger Moore
The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
Cheekbones, eye shadow, tattoos and lips — that's the essence of Angelina Jolie.
And guns. At least, that's what the skinny action heroine amounts to in "Wanted," a nervy, stylish and deeply silly movie about a clan of assassins training its newest recruit.
James McAvoy is that recruit, a downtrodden Chicago cubicle drone who suffers from anxiety attacks and apologizes for everything. Until, that is, "Fox" (Jolie, natch) shows up and "rescues" him from his dull life of victimhood, shows him "your long-awaited destiny to join us" and teaches him to use "the weapons of fate."
In lesser hands, this amoral shoot-em-up might have been as goofy as those portentous, pretentious pronouncements from the leader of The Fraternity, Morgan Freeman. But with two Oscar winners finessing the most ludicrous lines and the Kazakh cult hero Timur Bekmambetov (the Russian vampire movies "Night Watch" and "Day Watch") directing, shooting and editing this into a too-cool, too-manic seizure-inducing blur, "Wanted" hurtles past our eyes and ears too fast to register as much more than a video game.
McAvoy ("Atonement," "Last King of Scotland") plays Wesley, who never knew his father. Since his father was a member of this time-slowing, bullet-bending clan of genetic freaks, that makes Wesley special and recruitable.
The Fraternity drags him into a castlelike textile mill where they beat him, cut him and teach him to put topspin on bullets, all so that they can assassinate those Chicagoans and others in need of assassinating.
The Fraternity was founded by a weavers guild a thousand years ago, Sloan (Freeman) intones. They don't question those who are chosen for death, don't fret over moral details. They just run their looms and read their fabric swatches (!?) and do their duty. Once he's seen how cool, cruel and confident their training makes him, Wesley is down for their mission. He is to "kill the man who gunned down your father." Eventually.
The car chases and shoot-outs are epic, with Fox taking the new lad out for the occasional joy ride in a stolen car or jaunt along the roof of an El train. Jolie really sells these stunts and effects. But the training, the tedious super-human/supernatural explanations and "Empire Strikes Back"/Bible Code plot twists bog the picture down.
And then there's that whole troubling mission thing, shooting people you don't know.
"We don't know how far the ripples of our decisions go," Wesley is told. True. But is that a justification for gunning down somebody you've never met and know nothing about? Maybe in the graphic novel this was based on, or in first-person shooter video game ethics, that "Don't ask, don't think about it" works.
The visual verve makes "Wanted" a fine Hollywood calling card for Bekmambetov, who is ready for a Bourne film or whatever action picture the studios can dream up. McAvoy, the diminutive Scot, makes a decent action hero.
But "Wanted" is, more than anything, proof that no woman in film history has handled a gun with as much exotic panache as the once-and-future "Tomb Raider." It's Jolie's pistol-packing mama-to-be world, and we're all just innocent bystanders, hoping we duck in time.
© 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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