'Wanted' a breathless action experience

Joe Sicari

Wanted– A Universal Pictures release. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Common, and Thomas Kretchmann. Rated R.

If audiences ever wanted to know what a James Bond film on steroids would look like, "Wanted" is the answer.

Russian director Bekmambetov, in his first Hollywood film, scores a bullseye for a mindless action extravaganza. Bekmambetov owes plenty to the screenplay by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on the series of comic strips by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones.

Granted, "Wanted" is about assassins, not spies, but it’s the same type of action, from the gunfights to car chases to fights on a moving train.

Spectacular action sequences are what the film will be noted for. But, unlike those James Bond films, the action set pieces are blown up to unbelievable levels, thanks to the work of the CGI team. Everything here is heightened for the maximum visual force.

The story is thin, but good enough. Wesley Gibson’s (McAvoy) life is going nowhere. As a browbeaten account manager, he can’t even stand up to his friend, who is having a fling with his girlfriend! Gibson pops pills to deal with his anxiety and his stress. He simply doesn’t care, and who could blame him?

That changes literally in a blink of an eye, or, more to the point, the hail of bullets that come his way in a market.

Appearing out of nowhere is the beautiful and dangerous Fox (Jolie), who tells him the father he thought was dead years ago, in fact, died yesterday, and the man who killed him, Cross (Kretschmann), is now after him.

What happens next is a high-powered gunfight leading to an all-out car chase, complete with Fox hanging outside the car as she returns fire.

Getting away, Fox takes Wesley to the headquarters of the Fraternity. To explain what they are about would spoil some of the fun of the whacked-out story. The bottom line is the Fraternity, or, more importantly, its leader, Sloan (Freeman), believes the young man has it in himself to become an assassin just like his father and is the only one who can kill Cross. But before he can do that Wesley needs to be trained.

Wesley finds himself knocked around the worst by his trainers. There is the Butcher, who has a way with knifes. Not to be outdone, there is a guy named the Repairman, who’s pretty good with his fists. And let’s not forget Fox. She can inflict pain. But these training sequences, as well as the film’s introduction to Wesley and his downbeat life, are the biggest reasons why the film works.

No matter how fast things are moving in the early going, there’s plenty of humor. The ordinary guy put (or better yet thrown) into an extraordinary situation is played out perfectly. Wesley’s transformation is given enough time. Even the neatest trick, Wesley’s skill to bend the path of the bullet he shoots, takes a while.

All this is somewhat surprising coming from director Bekmambetov. Sure, his two previous Russian films, Night Watch, and the sequel, Day Watch, are visually stunning, but the stories were so confusing, over the top, convoluted, and, worst of all, so pretentious they were tough to sit though. In all fairness, they do have a strong cult following.

With "Wanted," the story is pretty simple. In fact, there is nothing new story-wise. But there is that humor which does decrease as the violence gets jacked up. And because the action is so over the top, the suspense is never to the level it can be when things are more realistic.

McAvoy continues to impress. Playing against type, he’s certainly believable as the ordinary guy. But nothing would work if he wasn’t just as good in the action, and he comes through with an intense gritty performance. And, with Jolie doing an extension of her "Mrs. Smith" role, Freeman in tough serious mode, and an appearance by Stamp, the supporting cast is better than solid.

"Wanted" is a perfect example of the right material and director coming together. Bekmambetov and his high-powered, skilled behind the scenes team have used all the tricks, blending CGI with live action. Add a strong cast led by McAvoy, and audiences have one breathless action experience.