July 3, 2008

Wanted

I got July 3rd off from work this year, so I decided to take in a matinee, But what to see? Baby Mama is only playing at night at the Arlington Capitol; Get Smart's matinee is too early at Fresh Pond; I will only see WALL-E at a late show to try and mitigate the kinderfaktor; and Hancock got mediocre reviews. That left Wanted, which I hoped would be an mindless and fun action film. Indeed, when I arrived at the Somerville Theater (I got a parking meter right outside the theater, woo!) the concessions clerk raved on and on about the movie. When strangers are going out of their way to recommend a movie, that should be a good sign! Jon Stewart had star James McEvoy on The Daily Show and Stewart went out of his way to say how much he liked the movie, a endorsement stronger than his typical recommendation.

Instead of mindless fun, I endured a sadistic, ridiculous, and joyless grind-fest. I have no problem with violence in movies. But Wanted took all the fun and joy out of brutal beatings, stabbings, and bullets to the brain. Even Fight Club had some black humor mixed in with the fascist violence.
McEvoy is Wesley Gibson, living an Office Space/The Matrix cube life. We're introduced to the mind-numbing world of TPS reports as if office work was a strange and unknown occupation- we all get the idea right away that his boss sucks and his work is meaningless, but Gibson doesn't snap until we're all bored to tears.
Gibson runs around the movie like Marty McFly on Red Bull: He never looks in the same direction that he's walking, his feet never seem to touch the ground, and he has enormous blue eyes like an tweaked anime character. Gibson gets drafted into a secret society of assassins with a twist: rather than selling their killing skills for hire, killing people regardless of their guilt or innocence, their targets are chosen by Fate itself, purely to save lives and make the world a better place. It turns out that Gibson's father was an assassin who was betrayed by a fellow assassin gone rogue- if this is starting to sound like Star Wars, raise your hand?
The brutal part which really turned me off was the assassin training which Gibson endures. I've never shot a gun or punched someone, but I imagine there's skills and techniques which I could be taught to improve myself. The WANTED school of assassin training syllabus works like this: DAY ONE they tie you to a chair and beat you senseless. DAY TWO, they slice you to ribbons in a knife fight. DAYS 3 and 4: repeat one and two. Each night, Gibson soaks in a magical hot tub which heals wounds overnight. I think the point is supposed to be that Gibson has super-assassin DNA, and this meat grinder is supposed to unleash the killer within? The end result is not much fun to watch, unfortunately for me and my $5 I will never see again.
The other super-assassin skill is "bending bullets", which is a magical technique for whipping your pistol through the air so your bullet goes around corners. I say "magic" because it's never explained. I tolerate this shit in The Matrix movies, because they offer a creative and intriguing reason why it's possible, but the ever-believable Morgan Freeman just says "very few people can do it." Sorry Morgan, I cried at the end of Shawshank Redemption, and I would have voted for you as president in Deep Impact, but this magic bullet shit is not OK!
The actors cast as this fraternity of assassins is a fun bunch: Morgan Freeman is the leader, all gravitas and trustworthiness, each freckle spelling out T R U S T M E; Scottish actor David O'Hara (The Departed) is the assassin in the Anakin Skywalker role; Thomas Kretschmann (The captain from King Kong) is the rogue assassin/Darth Vader part.
And then there's Angelina Jolie, who took this role to take an emotional break between filming A Mighty Heart and Changeling. Of course, she can't afford to make small movies like A Mighty Heart unless she cashes in on movies like this. I don't know why critics are enjoying her acting here so much; she does very little acting as far as I can tell. Her role consists of:
  • looking smug and patronizing as she shows Gibson the ropes;
  • showing off her ridiculous tattoos, including one scene naked and soaking wet;
  • Shooting a gun while looking intense;
  • ONE extended scene where she bares her emotional soul. She has maybe 10 lines in the whole rest of the movie put together.
This is not an anti-Jolie bias or a sexist thing either- I found her to be a fun and engaging heroine in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but in this movie, I just wanted to slap that smug smile off her face.As the lights came up and I sprinted out of the theater, I made sure not to make eye contact with the concession guy-- I wouldn't want to tell him how bad his favorite movie was.