Not-A-Dick Flick Pick

  • Stars: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
  • Directors: Timur Bekmambetov
  • Writers: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas, Chris Morgan (screenplay); Mark Millar and G. J. Jones (comic book series)

From the trailers, “Wanted” looks like a god-awful cheese fest.  Bullets that swerve around targets in mid-air, really?  How did Morgan Freeman get hoodwinked into such nonsense?  Imagine my surprise to find myself totally sucked into this creative, riveting, non-stop action roller-coaster.

A huge part of the film’s appeal is its weenie, whiny protagonist, the aptly-named Wesley (James McAvoy).  Wesley is a loser, a pathetic nobody stuck in a dreary cubicle with a scathing superior and dismal prospects in all aspects of his life.  It’s “Office Space” from hell, as if “Office Space” wasn’t hell enough.  And McAvoy looks positively sickly, with deathly bags under lemur-like eyes and a jaundiced tinge that makes you step back from the screen to evade the regurgitated fried mozzarella sticks that are almost certainly forthcoming from his trembling lips.

Okay, doesn’t really sound appealing.  But he’s uproarious in his patheticness, and no one who’s ever come close to a cubicle will be able to tear their eyes away.  Enter the mysterious and smokin’ Fox (Angelina Jolie), who abruptly materializes at Wesley’s elbow as he’s picking up his prescription pills (for panic attacks, no less).  She drops the bomb that Wesley’s recently deceased father was actually the best of the best in a secret society of assassins.  A moment later, bullets are screaming down the grocery store aisles, and a screaming Wesley is hauled into a gravity-defying car chase with Fox at the wheel.

Turns out Fox was telling the truth.  Not only was Wesley’s assassin father just picked off by one of his secret killer brethren, but this same rogue assassin is now trying to whack Wesley.  Because, of course, our pathetic loser Wesley is destined to become the next super-assassin.  Enter Sloan (Freeman), an elaborately and literally woven history of targeted elimination as dictated by the fates, and a rather graphic training gauntlet designed to teach gun-shy Wesley to, among other things, bend his bullets’ trajectories with his mind.

I’m not going to claim that the Academy be skewered for dissing the “Wanted” cast in its Best Actor nominations.  But we do often discount actors’ accomplishments simply because the genre is not considered Oscar material.  McAvoy’s transformation from cubicle coward to superhero is transfixing, physically palpable in every pusillanimous glance and tremor of speech.  Weenie Wesley could never in a million years hope to get a girl’s juices going, yet McAvoy had me gibbering like a hormonal idiot by the end.

No, it’s not a dick flick.  McAvoy, Jolie, and Freeman alike shoulder significant responsibility in the story.  But no, Jolie does not make the Strong Female Leads list with Fox.  It’s not because she’s a teenage boy’s daydream with heavy firepower, tatts, and painted-on outfits; it’s Hollywood, and most women are just gonna get dressed like that most of the time.  But while the character of Fox goes considerably beyond the job description of love interest, the romantic angle provides crucial stimulation (so to speak) for Wesley’s transformation.  And that, after all, is the whole point of the movie.

There’s nothing more powerful than the age-old fantasy of an everyman like Wesley catapulting to the tip-top of the natural, and supernatural, food chain.  I’ve never truly liked another comic book adaptation with one notable exception, “The Avengers”.  But the cheese factor here is minimal, the story imaginative, the action gripping (if not wholly original), and the characters pleasantly fleshed out.  Kudos and many thanks to director Timur Bekmambetov and screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan for cranking out what Hollywood does best:  entertainment.

And hey, there’s another one on the way.  I’ve already got my ticket.

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