WantedReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/27/08 14:00:00
When The Asylum (the low-budget STV studio) rips off a high-profile blockbuster, they cheerfully do it to make no mistake they are doing so without pretension. Snakes On A Plane, you say? Why not on a train? When a big-budget studio chooses to do so, they tend to take an original work that may contain elements of more familiar work and then mold them closer into the public’s fancy with the previous work; all the while keeping a distance and denying any association. Usually the poser work will be handed over to a poser director (usually a foreigner) who may have displayed some flash in some project(s) that American audiences have barely heard of and said helmer is hailed as the next flavor of the month. Occasionally you strike gold and get a John Woo. More frequently you get someone like Timur Bekmambetov, who may have broken Russian box office records with his flashy (yet indecipheribly boring) NightWatch/DayWatch epics but still hasn’t busted through that language of cinema barrier that states substance is a viable mixture to flash; particularly when your flash isn’t worth the pan its melting in.Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) is your atypical world’s most boring human; so boring that he can’t even find one listing of him on Google. An office job he hates, an overweight boss he can’t stand and a girlfriend cheating on him with his best friend. Dude has to catch a break sometime, right? That’s when Fox (Angelina Jolie) finds Wesley at the local pharmacy and nabs him just as an assassin named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) has them in his sights. After a gravity-and-physics-defying chase through the streets of Chicago, Wesley is introduced to an underground group known as the Fraternity. For centuries this group of top gunsmiths have banded together to rid the world of scum destined for bad things.
After a little reluctance to accept his birthright (it seems Wesley’s father was a former member), he takes charge and goes headlong into training that involves beatings, knife training and the coup de grace, a technique that allows shooters to curve their bullets. Gene Simmons did this using guidance systems in Runaway. These experts simply wave their arms in a semi-circle. See, they aren’t just chosen for their ability to take a beating (a skill handy for assassins hundreds of feet from their targets), guys like Wesley can adjust their heartrate to slow down time and give them a clearer view of a world gone out of control. Nifty metaphor, huh? Just made it up cause that’s never what Wanted is indicitive of.
The film is based upon the comic book miniseries by Mark Millar, although even “loosely based” is still a stretch. Fans intrigued by the concept of villainous assassins taking on the world’s superheroes should be outraged that its been turned into little more than a lame Matrix clone with no traces of the series aside from a couple names and none of the ingenuity or philosophy that the Wachowskis brought to it (or its underrated second chapter.) What else do you call a premise where a bored white guy in a monotonous day job is approached by a hot female with weapons skills and mentored by an African-American Oscar nominee? Better question – how do you take seriously a film where the almighty presence of the universe’s elders is represented by a machine known as The Loom of Fate?
The answer is – you don’t. You just go along with the mayhem and hope for an entertaining ride with enough kick-ass moments to make you forget that’s all it is or that you’re watching a story where the deity comes from a rejected underwear ad. Wanted doesn’t even get the sexy right, playing down the tension between a bony Jolie and a tooly McAvoy as if a couple adrenaline junkies couldn’t use a little stress release every now and then. Sad that the male fantasy with firing guns has usurped shooting practice of another kind. Be that as it may, Wanted wears a flashing “I’m so cool” marquee on its sleeve with each successive (and excessive) action sequence but ignores its own established laws or just hopes that we’ve ignored them in the process.
Wesley and his Fraternal ilk have what are akin to anxiety attacks. When controlled their body pressure stiffens to the point where the world goes in slow motion from their perspective. Make a note of that – THEIR perspective. They can get a better read on their target, stop a loom in mid-thread, maybe even dodge a bullet if need be. You know, very Matrix-y. This doesn’t mean that the physical world itself slows down around them. While I’m happy to go along with someone sliding along the hood of a speeding car while firing upon their target, the movie continues to try to sell us as if they have control over the cars themselves; jumping them across other cars and into trains with absolute precision and, in an opening scene, run like the wind and across buildings. Why does this bother me so much when I have gallantly praised filmmakers like Woo, Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron for such feats in the past? Simple, because craftsmanship is the great equalizer and Bekmambetov simply has none. Overreaching on special effects and choking on over-editing, there is just nothing exciting about Wanted even in a slapdash style straight up to one of the most laughable action finales in recent memory. Seriously, if you’re not enjoying a hero clipping numerous henchman through the bullet-ridden skull of his beatdown master, the onus is on the filmmaker.Stripping out the pastiche of superhero caricatures being hunted down and eliminated takes about all of the thunder out of Wanted’s potential uniqueness to the genre, but not all of its intrigue. While absorbed into greater thought in Spielberg’s Minority Report (and even Bill Paxton’s Frailty), the idea of guardians taking otherworldly advice to snuff out evil before they can break bad again (or for the first time) is a fascinating concept that screenwriters Michael Brandt & Derek Haas (2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 To Yuma) utilize in a few cliched moments of guilt but never open up, especially after the obvious late-inning twist (no surprise to the comic readers) makes you wonder just how bad the victims were and how the organization remains secret if their services are being hired out for profit. Wanted is worse than brainless, it’s brain-dead. It’s action scenes reflect the qualities of an ADD patient with snow blindness and only Jolie’s icy, smirking stare demands enough promise for us to stay with it through the next ineptly staged or written scene. When we, the audience, are confronted directly at the end and asked “what the fuck have you done lately?” at least you can readily answer, “well, I sure as fuck didn’t make a film as crappy as Wanted.”
|© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.|