Movie Review: Recherché
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
It'll be fun, up to a point, for Chicago audiences to see "Wanted." Russian director Timur Bekmametov, who's now shooting the third in his "Night Watch" trilogy, filmed parts of his adaptation of the "Wanted" comic books on location in Wrigleyville, the Loop and other settings, and the results make our poor, beleaguered CTA trains look like they can fly like the wind. Can you imagine an action sequence involving the "L" where the train moved at its actual top speed? The stunt people would die of boredom.
The Chicago-ness of "Wanted" is entertaining (though for the most part the city's stand-in is Prague), and the cast certainly tones things up, despite the glaring lack of muscle tone of its female star, Angelina Jolie. Yet I sort of hated this picture. If you went for "Sin City" or "Shoot 'Em Up," you'll probably enjoy "Wanted." I like my trash with a little less fetishism when it comes to instruments of slaughter.
The non-human stars of the film are the bullets. When fired correctly, the gats these killers use shoot bullets that can bend around an obstacle to hit a target and make him go splooey, blood all over the place. I suppose this gives "Wanted" a hook. But it's pretty stupid one.
McAvoy plays Wesley, a cubicle-dwelling schmo dragooned into joining The Fraternity, a shadow group of assassins who operate on the right side of the moral equation but the wrong side of the law. (In the books they're on the wrong side of everything.) Wesley never knew his father, but his father apparently was one of the best of the assassins. It's in his blood - Wesley must kill. His mentor is Fox (Jolie), who works for Sloan (Morgan Freeman), as does the Gunsmith (Chicago rapper Common), and the movie is essentially a punishing training sequence followed by a killing spree, followed by Jolie glowering without blinking, followed by little flourishes such as a man getting hit in the face with a computer keyboard, leading to the sight of the flying letters plus one bloody tooth spelling out an unprintable phrase.
The comic books by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones are morally objectionable in part for all, as the Catholic Legion of Decency would say. In the books, Wesley immediately realizes the advantages of getting in touch with his sociopathic dark side: He picks off stray pedestrians for training purposes and then begins killing everybody he ever had a grudge against. His multidirectional rage against ethnic minorities and women leaves gallons of blood all over the streets. "Can you believe I raped an A-list celebrity and it didn't even make the news? That's how deep The Fraternity goes, my friend," Wesley says in the book.
The movie cleans up most of that heinousness, though it's full-on pornography when it comes to the bullet's-eye-view effects shots. What are Jolie and Freeman and McAvoy doing here, besides acting cooler than Clive Owen in "Shoot 'Em Up"? Cashing a check, that's what. Bekmametov may have talent, but the arrested-adolescent "escapism" of this picture emits a pretty bad odor.
MPAA rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality).
Running time: 1:50
Opening: 12:01 a.m. Friday.
Starring: James McAvoy (Wesley); Angelina Jolie (Fox); Morgan Freeman (Sloan); Terence Stamp (Pekwarsky); Thomas Kretschmann (Cross); Common (The Gunsmith)
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov; written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, based on the comic books by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones; photographed by Mitchell Amundsen; edited by David Brenner; music by Danny Elfman; production design by John Myhre; produced by Marc Platt, Jim Lemley, Jason Netter and Iain Smith. A Universal Pictures release.