Saturday, June 28, 2008

Constant Viewer: Wanted

Wanted relies on so many dubious premises to advance its plot that it’s a good think it moves so quickly you never have time to think about it. Between Angelina Jolie showcasing her ink covered flesh in various stages of dishabille and bullets whizzing in various stages of stop action camera work through human skulls, it's possible, if unlikely, that the average viewer might not think to himself “Hey, this is pretty damned preposterous!”

But it is. Never mind all the "who’s killing who right now and how and why" business that makes up the slender thread of a story that weaves its way back and forth from homicides to hot tubs, complete with plenty of blood for the former and tomb-like wax coatings for the latter. These tubs, we are told, speed the healing process our poor hero seems to need just about every five minutes, never mind they also give us an opportunity to see a buck naked Jolie! (Albeit from a distance and it’s probably a “stunt rear” anyway.).

No, far more preposterous is the underlying premise of a thousand year old guild of weavers – that’s right, weavers! – whose, yeah sure, discovery of a secret code in their cloth led them to convert the guild into a fraternity of assassins. (“Uthor, look at this!” “What do you mean? Those are just mistakes in the weaving, you dolt!” “No, look! In binary code it spells out “Kill Sir Aldo!” “Ohmygawd! That’s amazing! There’s just one thing, though.” “What’s that?” “What the hell is binary code?”)

Now, in the hands of, say, Umberto Eco this is the sort of idea that could lead to a soporific 1,500 page doorstop littered with twenty or thirty obscure quotes per page in equally obscure, dead or dying languages. In the hands of Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, however, it’s as good an excuse as any for a popcorn flick that after the first reel almost literally grabs the viewer by the throat and never lets go. Okay, so your popcorn might get a little blood on it along the way. It’s a small price to pay for the ride, don’t you think?

Bekmambetov, by the way, also directed the sadly under-viewed but beautiful 2004 Night Watch, a gothic action film well worthy of a rental even if you’re not all that into vampires. Back to Wanted, however, Jolie puts in a satisfyingly sex-drenched performance here and the rest of the casting is very strong and, at least to Constant Viewer, a bit of a surprise. CV’s appreciation of James McAvoy rose appreciably after his work in what was really the best picture of 2007 (the Golden Globe folks were right, the Academy was wrong), Atonement.

But CV wouldn’t have thought of McAvoy as an action flick protagonist notwithstanding his perfect casting as the uber-nebbish cubicle slave we find at the beginning of the movie. Well, CV was wrong and unlike those wimpy film reviewers you’ll find elsewhere he is man enough to admit it. Rounding out the cast we find Morgan Freeman as the head of the assassin’s guild, Thomas Kretschmann as the rogue assassin, Cross, and the recently omnipresent Terence Stamp in a small but important role towards the end of the film. Not a ringer in the lot of them.

If CV were in the star awarding business, Wanted would come in at somewhere around 7 out of 10 stars. (Speaking of which, did you ever wonder why those previously mentioned wimpy film reviewers set up a 4 or 5 star scale and then go and award half-stars? What the hell is a half-star and why don’t they just double their unit of measurement in the first place?) And, of course, those are summer movie stars, not autumn Oscar contender stars, too. Okay, so there are better movies playing right now. But the audience actually applauded several times at the showing CV attended and, let's face it, there are far, far worse movies out there, too. Hey, by all accounts the worst one out there at the moment isn't even directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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