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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Wanted

Who doesn’t want to feel Wanted? As long as it’s not by a process server, the FBI, or by a bill collection agency, it’s got to be a pretty good feeling being Wanted. There are days I wish I felt a whole lot more Wanted. I swear, I feel like I couldn’t get bit by a rabid dog even if I bathed in A-1 Sauce and wore a T-bone steak stapled to each thigh. That’s when I really envy someone like Wesley Gibson most of all.

Wesley is the character played by James McAvoy (Atonement) at the center of the new movie, Wanted, now playing at the Essex Cinemas. Wesley is a put upon accounts manager for a giant, nameless firm, where he is bullied daily by his shrewish boss and walked all over by his supposed “best friend” who is having an affair with Wesley’s equally shrewish girlfriend who does nothing but nag him when he comes home at night. No wonder Wesley chugs anti-anxiety medication by the bottleful. McAvoy is the perfect actor to play such a sad little character. He is usually one seen as a romantic lead in Merchant-Ivory type drawing room pot-boilers about repressed Victorian lovers who, thankfully, never doff their clothing because underneath you know both parties have never ever seen the light of day and the idea of actually watching the two make the beast with two backs onscreen would be the equivalent of seeing two plucked egrets mate. There’s only so much cold, bumpy chicken flesh one can tolerate while eating your popcorn before it comes back up, and theater personnel have way too much to do as it is than have to clean THAT up between each showing. Anyway, McAvoy, is Scottish in real life, so though he plays American here (and does a terrific accent by the way), he is just pale enough and short enough (at 5’9”) to look the part of a total dweeb ~ a far cry from Angelina Jolie’s usual leading men.

It’s during one of Wesley’s frequent trips to the pharmacy for a refill on his anti-anxiety prescription that he suddenly finds himself being eyed by a gorgeous stranger, Angelina Jolie (Kung Fu Panda), who looks like she just might be thinking of adopting him, but, then again, when isn’t Angelina Jolie looking like she’s about to adopt something. She tells Wesley that his father died the day before on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Building and that he was the world’s greatest assassin. Say what? Wesley barely has time to explain that his father walked out on his mother and him when he was only seven days old before the mystery gal’s whipped out a machine gun and is engaging in the middle of a battle with a guy who’s suddenly appeared from behind a toilet paper display and begun shooting in their direction.

What follows is one of the most outlandish and unbelievable chase scenes in movie history as the fight spills outside and onto the streets of nighttime Chicago. While there is certainly nothing in this
sequence that could happen in real life, it does not diminish the jaw-dropping “What the ----?!” of it all. I can’t imagine the stunt resources involved in what went into this or many of the bits of this movie, which will have viewers talking about what they’ve seen for months to come. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about most of the best moments involving stunt or CGI work without giving away some of the most shocking plot twists I’ve seen in years, and that’s saying a lot. I see 300 – 400 movies each year, and it takes a whole lot to surprise me or get me to actually feel anxious about a scene, but both happened in Wanted, and the last third of the film was chock full of shockers.

Before then, expect to see Wesley discover a whole new life as he is recruited by the mystery woman, aka, Fox, to join The Fraternity, a secret society of assassins, which included his father before his death. The Fraternity is run by a man named Sloan (Morgan Freeman; The Bucket List), who explains the history of the organization and the fact that the headaches and panic attacks Wesley has experienced over the years are not from stress or fear but are from unfocused special mental powers that he can learn to tame while being trained by Fox and the other assassins on staff at The Fraternity. These powers are apparently genetically predisposed and Wesley has never known about them before now.

Ah, good times! Wesley gets beaten up, stabbed, kicked, walloped, and shot before he is finally given his “seal of approval” as a full-fledged assassin. There was no mention of whether he also got a toaster oven the way the Lesbians do when they sign-on (or so the story goes). Of course, before he can go after the man who killed his daddy, Sloan has to be sure he is up to the task, and so Wesley is sent out on a few other missions first. He assassinates various and sundry folks even though we don’t know anything about them, which led me to think about assassination in general. What does it take to get assassinated? I mean, really, what do you have to do to reach that point of importance in life so if somebody murders you the press calls it an "assassination" instead of just a common "murder"? I know that if I'm going to get killed, I want it to be worthwhile, but it seems like only really wealthy white people or people with a lot of political clout get “assassinated.” Tupac got shot; Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Diddy would get shot but I’ll bet Donald Trump would be assassinated. I’m just guessing. I know, it’s sick, and I’m digressing.

Wanted crescendos into a rousing third act as Wesley (with an incredibly buff and surprisingly well-defined body after all) and Fox travel to the Czech Republic so Wesley can finally off the man who killed his father, an assassin named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann; Next). What happens in the former Czechoslovakia is eye-popping and plot-twisting, and you’ll just have to see it for yourself because I’m not about to spoil it for you.

Director Timur Bekmambetov (Ночной дозор aka Night Watch) makes his English language debut with this film, and while it has overtones similar to The Matrix,
Wanted takes place solely in this world, albeit a wildly unrealistic and bloody fantasyland of a planet. The large cast is perfect, including the supporting “teacher” assassins Gunsmith (Common; Street Kings), The Repairman (Marc Warren; tv’s “Hustle”),The Exterminator (Konstantin Khabensky; Admiral), and The Butcher (Dato Bakhtadze; Irene in Time). Jolie is in her best Mr. & Mrs. Smith mode minus Mr. Smith (maybe she finally did shoot him after all), and McAvoy creates such a tremendous physical and emotional transformation that it is almost spooky. I saw an interview with McAvoy and he said he worked out 2-3 hour a day for ten months while eating a high protein diet to prepare for this film, and it definitely gave him one smoking body. Of course, he admitted that since the wrap, he’s fallen off that regime and reverted to his “usual Scottish trout look.” Too bad, too, too bad.

This past weekend appeared to be one where everybody Wanted a little bot named Wall•E. I suppose it makes sense since it’s summer and the kids are home from school and what are you going to do with them, right? Still, do yourself a favor and make some room on your schedule to see Wanted. You’ll want to leave the kids at home though because this is definitely not made for the wee ones or the weak of heart.

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