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...And Through The Air And Around The Pig Carcass And Into The Brain--Wanted Hits Every Target

BAD MOTHER: Angelina Jolie Is On Blast.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 6/25/2008

Curving bullets, a man jumping from one skyscraper to another, flipping a car to fire through an open sunroof, shooting the wings off buzzing flies, jumping a car into a moving train, what looks like a paraffin-qua-doughnut glaze baths that speed the healing of broken bones and knife-sliced skin, exploding rats, passenger-train cars careening off a mountain-pass bridge toward a frighteningly deep ravine, bullets that cut through the air like multistage rockets--just when you think Russian director Timur Bekmambetov has pulled every insane visual treat out of his bottomless bag of action-movie tricks, a sprinting gunman fires point blank into another man's eye socket. And then that gunman sticks the barrel into the gaping wound and continues running, using the lifeless body as a human shield-qua-shooting rest, continuing on his way through the movie's 10th or 9,000th dizzying firefight. Underneath all of Wanted's CGI effects and preposterous ideas and eroticized images of Angelina Jolie woman-handling weapons, though, is an old-fashioned story line that prevents the movie from being mere cinematic methamphetamine.

And it's funnier than a bulldog in a nun's habit to boot. In the opening minute a title card pops up relating that old yarn about a group of assassins who, 1,000 years ago or so, started the Fraternity of Weavers, which continues to today. Flash-forward to the present, where Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is a spineless cubicle slave working in some torturously dead-end Chicago office. His girlfriend is an overbearing ball-buster who complains every moment he's within earshot. His best mate at work spends his lunch hour servicing Wesley's girlfriend. Wesley's boss is the sort of a passive-aggressive micromanager that incites closet manifesto writers to go postal. And Wesley is such a Prozac nation victim that he pops a pill anytime his blood pressure rises and he feels a panic attack blossoming, which happens pretty much every time Wesley can't pass robotically through life like a faceless widget on the cradle-to-grave worm-food assembly line.

Which means he nearly has a stroke when he stops into his local supermarket to refill his meds and meets Fox (Angelina Jolie in full-tilt lethal supermodel mode), who promptly whips out a high-tech firearm that allows her to shoot around corners as she protects Wesley from a stoic Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), who earlier in the movie head-shot dropped a man atop a downtown Chicago building with a single bullet fired from a small room in what might as well be Milwaukee. A ludicrous chase ensues, and Wanted revs into a high-octane pace from which it never wavers.

Turns out Fox is one of those Weaver assassins, and Wesley is the son of one, too. Wesley's father abandoned him shortly after his birth, but Wesley has a hard time swallowing that he is a member of this Fraternity that includes Fox, Repairman (Marc Warren), the Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky), the Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze), Gunsmith (Common), and the cucumber-cool leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Wesley's panic attacks aren't a debilitating condition but adrenaline-primed empowerment, and with the proper training he can learn not only to control this physiological response but use it to curve bullets. And after Wesley embraces this rush for the first time, he decides to see what these folks have to offer him.

Because he has something to offer them. That lantern-jawed Cross is an ex-Fraternity member who went rogue, killed Wesley's father--their most accomplished assassin--and is now picking off its numbers one by one. And they think Wesley, being his father's son, is the only person who can track him. It's a threadbare setup that Wanted successfully milks for 110 minutes, but that tight focus is what makes it such a delight. Screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan very, very loosely based this story on Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' comic book of the same name, effectively only keeping its central character (Wesley), assassin fraternity, absolutely amoral violence, and gallows humor. The story they've concocted, though, is not only comic-book elemental but practically aboriginal: the self-discovery process, becoming the person you are to be.

And director Bekmambetov wraps that journey in an entertainingly busy cinematic package. Visually he's even more seamlessly daring and wittily inventive than he was in his Night Watch and Day Watch sagas, two relentlessly fanciful Russian fantasy flicks. But Wanted is a work of more baroque control: sounds serve as much as psychological mood setting as they do to accent the metal collisions, and seemingly throwaway background details emerge as subtle leitmotifs and sly clues to where the story's heading. And where it's rushing is into the sort of preposterous melodrama found in telenovelas or the Old Testament--narrative absurdity to equal the orgy of on-screen violence. Wanted refreshingly doesn't try to inflate its story into a war over the fate of the world or all of humankind or some other pseudohumanistic nonsense. Instead it fires off some 100,000 bullets over more familiar human impulses--avarice, selfishness, and vanity trying to work one over on fate.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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