6/29/2008

Wanted




Director:
Timur Bekmambetov

I jumped on the Angelina Jolie bandwagon early—so mesmerized along with everyone else by her work in Girl Interrupted that I overlooked the questionable decisions and craziness that followed from making out with her brother at the Oscars, starring in Gone in 60 Seconds, wearing a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck, sleeping with knives, and even setting her sights on Jennifer Aniston’s husband. And frankly it’s because she’s just so cool, so talented, so gorgeous, and incredibly gifted that her remarkable body of work along with her humanitarian efforts and becoming the poster woman for celebrity adoption considerably tip the scales in her favor making her the idealized woman for countless men and the courageous no-holds-barred impulsive risk taker most women wish they could be... if on a much smaller level. Granted, it’s time for someone to at long last admit this and-- after watching Wanted which of course, followed the endlessly entertaining bullet strewn romantic comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the big screen version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and others-- I think I’ll take the plunge and confess first that frankly, I’m a bit irrationally terrified of Angelina Jolie. To explain, if I was in a darkened alley or in a parking garage and I got the impression that Angelina Jolie was around, I think I’d either: a) drop into a fetal position and beg for my mother; b) despite hating The Wizard of Oz, click my heels and hope to magically reappear back home; c) have a heart attack right there on the spot; or d) be so worried that-- endlessly spoiling for a fight-- she’d just whip out weaponry that I’d hitch a ride with the nearest person I could find whether they were a five year old on a bike with training wheels or a sixty-five year old in a golf cart. Just like there was something about Cameron Diaz’s Mary that made men turn into stalkers by her romantic allure in the Farrelly Brothers comedy of the 90’s, there’s something about Jolie that makes me immediately concerned she’ll go rogue samurai with little prompting, making her domestic partner Brad Pitt not only climb in my respect for him as one of the very few men who are not only turned on by strong women but respectful enough to be with one, but also a private hero that he hasn’t hired a team of bodyguards whenever they have an argument over who drank the last of the milk. Since, let’s face it, if I was him and I’d accidentally finished Jolie’s crossword puzzle or forgotten to take out the trash, I think I’d be changing my name, dyeing my hair, and moving to Canada.

This being said, when it comes to the big screen adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ comic book Wanted directed by Russian helmer Timur Bekmambetov in his Hollywood debut, Jolie is the ultimate choice to play the aptly named Fox—being that of course, to use a phrase from the 70’s, she is a “stone cold fox” and as we all know, only the coolest characters in action movies are either named after animals or consist of one syllable.

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In a film I-- like other critics have dubbed Angelina Jolie’s version of her partner Brad Pitt’s Fight Club, shortly into the work and similar to Fincher’s white collar male angst classic, we meet a dissatisfied office worker in the form of Wesley Gibson (Atonement star James McAvoy). The fact that he has a full name immediately sets him apart from the rest as the film sets him up to be an average square like Norton’s Fight Club character except-- you know-- minus all of the homoeroticism. Recently given one of those bogus corporate America promotions of a title change from “service representative” to “account manager,” Wesley is a man who is so whipped that not only is he still best friends and cubicle buddies with the quintessential twentysomething slime ball who’s sleeping with his nagging live-in girlfriend but adding insult to injury, when the pig is short on cash, he actually pays to keep him in prophylactics and seems unwilling to end a relationship with the cheating, ungrateful woman that’s way past its expiration date.

Furthering his humiliating existence, he lets his overweight, monstrous boss send him into panic attacks which make him as regular at his pharmacy counter as Norm was at the bar in Cheers and it’s precisely in this location one night where he’s approached by Fox who tells him that the father who’d abandoned him shortly after his birth in all reality was one of the finest assassins who ever lived and died yesterday after being taken out by a traitor who, incidentally is standing right behind them. While normally this would send Wesley straight for his bottle of anxiety medication, the audience is fully prepared having seen the highly imaginative and unforgettable assassination just moments beforehand, and what’s more, before Wesley has time to react, Jolie is lugging him around like a box of tissues, rolling and ducking as she shoots her way with Wesley through the pharmacy, culminating in a furiously fast, audacious, and spectacular car chase sequence that will leave you breathless.



It’s about this time when no doubt most of the working press began mentally labeling the film a roller coaster or thrill ride and while I’ve never been one to follow suit or stoop to clich├ęs, by this point in the film, filmmaker Bekmambetov has demanded either full suspension of disbelief from his audience to just sit back and shut up... or warning them that it’s going to be an awfully long two hours. For the purposes of an audience member and critic, I tried to stay with the stimulus in total submission for as long as I could, even as it grew far more incredibly ridiculous as we’re introduced to the thousand year old order of assassins called The Fraternity, led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman) and inhabited by other interchangeable toughs some of whose names have more than one syllable and are therefore less important than Fox or Sloan. Following orders given down to them by the Gods through—I kid you not—a “loom of fate” as codes are woven into the textiles created in their Chicago mill, The Fraternity make it their goal to restore order in the universe, killing anyone whose name pops up without question.

At first, like Neo in The Matrix (to which countless parallels will be drawn), Wesley resists the temptation to join with the motley crew, but then again, we realize he has a gift and Fox doesn’t make mistakes in recruiting crack shots—it was after all Wesley she chose at the store and not a hunting supply shopping Dick Cheney. Thus, ultimately Wesley takes the proverbial “red pill” and goes through highly excruciating training which largely consists of as Alexander DeLarge might say in A Clockwork Orange, “a little of the old ultraviolence” as his beautiful face is beaten to a bloody pulp prompting him not only never to break rule number one and talk about Angelina’s Fight Club but also to toughen him up. With the end result of enabling Wesley to use his own genetically gifted features and adrenaline charged self-discovered biofeedback to his benefit to see things clearer, slow things down, learn to bend bullets, heal faster, and undergo feats of superhuman strength in order to fully join the fraternity and seek bloody revenge on the traitor who killed his father, enough science is thrown out the window that Wanted may cause anyone with a background in quantum mechanics and string theory to go running for the movie theatre exits.

Still, we’re not in it for logic, we just want to see some action and the director delivers on that promise with some amazing spectacles but unlike the gorgeous action of say Kill Bill or the beauty of martial arts movies or the dazzling Hong Kong shoot 'em up action pictures that actually allow depth to filter in, basically Wanted is one that damn near causes eye strain. Overwhelmingly, it felt like we were watching a large collection of video games that had been left on by eager fanboys in a rush to flee their homes and line up to see Jolie’s violent foreplay-- ultimately making the headache inducing film seem like a dissatisfying gun tease with lots of on-the-surface action but little follow through with an age-appropriate emphasis on quantity over quality (there's a joke in there somewhere but I don't think I need to spell it out).

Although age is something that should definitely be taken into consideration with the film that—should there have been any MPAA justice or proof their ratings aren’t bought off—earns itself an NC-17 within the first half hour alone, yet it was just saddled with the seductive box office friendly R rating, allowing the right for a tragic amount of parents in my audience to legally have the trashy taste to bring young children under the age of ten to go see Hollywood’s latest orgy of blood. Hmm, maybe Jolie will be adopting them soon?

And while I don’t shy away from violence and love a good action film, holding James Cameron’s Terminator 2 up as one of the greatest of all time, in the end, Wanted was so ridiculously violent, so aggressively mindless (a loom, really?), and with a highly unrewarding finale that—without giving anything away—makes a few scenes from The Deer Hunter feel far fresher, that it’s ultimately a major let-down. It’s one you want to love so badly and in fact so many critics and fanboys have been obsessed with this picture for months they’re near candidates for a twelve step program that I think it’s going to be better received than it should have been when viewed through that subjective mirror, yet ultimately it’s not one I can quite recommend.

However, out of mortal fear—no actually sheer respect—I do want to say that nobody handles herself quite like the Oscar winning Ms. Jolie when it comes to outgunning the men and I was grateful that at least they let her feminine beauty shine through (she actually has a shootout in a white, lacy, feminine summer dress!), but she, like the Golden Globe nominated McAvoy and Oscar winning Freeman deserve something much, much better and especially so do the fanboys and girls.