The trailers for Wanted made it look like The Lobotomy Matrix: people flying through windows in slow-mo, doing weird things with bullets, engaging in comically improbable car chases--dumb, in other words, but with a slim chance to be very, very fun.
"But they can curve bullets!" I told my friend when trying to explain why it could be good despite looking so stupid. "I'm not sure these guys have heard of science," he said, then launched into a lecture about sonic booms and the breaking point of human wrists which lasted until I woke back up in the theater and turned off my phone like the considerate human being I am. I must have hung up so hard it broke his phone, actually, because he hasn't answered my calls since.
But who needs friends when you've got movies? Weird people, that's who. The same kind of weirdies who wouldn't appreciate all the cartoonish violence and absurd twists Wanted is chock full of.
James McAvoy is your standard everyday coward: pushed around by his boss, cheated on by his girlfriend (with his best friend!), dependent on meds to control his anxiety attacks. What he doesn't know is his father, who left when McAvoy was born, is a member of the Fraternity, a thousand-year-old society of assassins dedicated to maintaining order in a chaotic world.
But his father is killed by Thomas Kretschmann, a member turned rogue who then comes after McAvoy, too. He's saved in the nick of time by assassin Angelina Jolie, who brings McAvoy to the Fraternity, tells him about his heritage, and offers him the chance to join them and then hunt down the man who killed his father.
Did I mention the Fraternity was founded by a society of weavers, and they get their kill orders from a giant binary-speaking loom? Well, they were and they do, and most of Wanted is just as delightfully insane. Director Timur Bekmambetov may be Russia's greatest contribution to culture since the dancing bear. Okay, that's taking it too far (launching dogs into space won't soon be topped), but the man knows how to put together an exciting action movie that turns its "using bullets to shoot other bullets"-level stupidity into a strength.
It helps that it's funny. As a sort of poor man's Edward Norton from Fight Club, McAvoy plays up a wussbag brand of comedy at odds with the rest of the movie's slick ultraviolence and sexy, deadly assassins.
His part and Bekmambetov's breakneck direction makes for a pretty neat trick: intentionally ridiculous without descending into the "hey look how silly and over-the-top we are" tone that makes so many supposedly "fun" movies into unbearable clever-fests that make you want to punch your own brain out just in case you're ever struck by the urge to write a screenplay proving that you too have seen many action movies and considered some of them silly.
The humor slows down somewhat in Wanted's second half when training scenes threaten to bog down the larger plot -- as fun as it is to watch McAvoy get repeatedly beat up during his transformation from octowussy to super-stud, I'd like to know what that dastardly Kretschmann's up to, too.
But when it meanders, it's usually up to something entertaining, even if that something is a cacophonous train crash that, while done in the name of good, clearly costs hundreds of innocent lives. I'll readily admit Wanted's morality is sketchy at best, and if you do something stupid like think about it, it may be outright repugnant.
Screw that, though. Dissecting meaning in a movie where the killers take orders from an omniscient loom is about as relevant as our collective desire to find out which of Angelina Jolie's tattoos rub off and which don't: sincere, but that's not really what she's here for. (At least, not for you suckers.) Wanted, like last year's Shoot Em Up, is funny and frenetic, highly stylized and personalized.
Trash? Perhaps, but it's the kind you'll want to throw yourself into and wallow around in.