Angelina and the Atonement Guy Miss Target in Killer Thriller

Wanted
Running Time 110 minutes
Written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp

Even in the summer garbage dump of bloated bilge aimed at computer hackers and sleepwalkers with I.Q.’s under 40, a bucket of swill called Wanted reaches the bottom of the waste heap. There are so many things wrong with this cabbage-headed comic book that I don’t know where to begin. I guess it doesn’t matter. Since none of it makes one word of sense, you can just jump in anywhere.

From what I understood of the alleged “plot,” it seems that 1,000 years ago a secret group of assassins called “The Fraternity” went around ridding the population of bad guys. Cut to today. At an office birthday party, we meet a nerdy accountant named Wesley Gibson (played by James McAvoy, who has exchanged his talent and promising A-list career for money). Wesley is so insignificant he can’t even Google himself. While he’s waiting in a nearby pharmacy to refill his anxiety-meds prescription, a zoned-out Angelina Jolie appears covered with revolting tattoos, her cleavage exposed like a Times Square hooker, and her eyes circled with black kohl, looking like Kung Fu Panda. She mysteriously explains that Wesley’s father was one of the greatest assassins who ever lived, and now the maniac who killed him is standing right behind Wesley with a gun pointed at his head. This leads to the first of many high-speed chases that cost enough money in gasoline to balance the budget, and destroy most of what remains of New York’s diminishing real estate market. Ms. Jolie, looking trashier than usual, drives a car that flies over the top of a police blockade, a subway station and what looks like the 59th Street Bridge. Her name is Fox. She takes Wesley to meet Sloan, the big boss, played by Morgan Freeman, who does one of those eye-twinkling, nose-twitching, curled-lip jobs that pass for acting when he gets caught slumming in rotten scripts for inflated salaries he knows he does not deserve. “The fraternity are architects of fate,” he grins. Whatever that means.

Where was I? Oh, yes. They entice Wesley to join the fraternity of killers by depositing almost four million dollars of his dead father’s assets into an ATM. Empowered by this sudden windfall, Wesley obliterates his cruel boss at work; smashes his phone in the face of the bogus best friend who is humping his girlfriend; and crosses over to the dark side of the fraternity, whose secret hideout is a textile factory. In the crash course in assassin school that follows, Fox and her chums beat the living daylights out of Wesley, break every bone in his body, and dip him into a pool of magical ice water covered with wax that cures in an hour every knife cut, flesh burn, bullet hole, rip, tear, abrasion and wound that takes years in intensive care to heal. When he survives, Wesley’s job is to become as vicious as his father and find the member of the “fraternity” who went rogue, betrayed the others and killed their best member. Why this is considered an honor is never explained. Their victims are selected by clues revealed in irregular threads in the tapestry weave in the textile mill. “Kill one, save a thousand” is their motto. What Wesley doesn’t know is that he’s on the hit list as Fox’s next assignment.

Enough. Any movie in which orders to slaughter are hidden in the threads of a loom defies analysis already. Wanted is about men who find their cojones when they murder, and women who go weak with lust over insanity, power, and brutal mayhem. The sophomoric direction (by Timur Bekmambetov) and the imbecilic writing (by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan) make for another Matrix redux that is no better or worse than Speed Racer, but I’m getting tired of leaving movie screenings with everyone around me grousing, “Sure, it’s incomprehensible gibberish, but it’s supposed to be!” Except for one brief detour as the widow of slain journalist Daniel Pearl in the box office flop A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie hasn’t bothered to give a real performance of any distinction since Girl, Interrupted (1999). She walks through Wanted like an afterthought, every splatter of blood on her face designed like a Mondrian sketch. I no longer expect anything valid from her, but this horror also wastes the talents of some serious people, including Terence Stamp, Morgan Freeman and, especially, James McAvoy. In one year, he went from Atonement, the best film of 2007, to Wanted, one of the worst films of 2008. Hardly anything to inspire pride, if you ask me. For high-octane thrills, the final third of this interminable bore features a spectacular CGI train wreck and an army of rats fueled by peanut butter. Brief distractions, to be sure, but nothing to write home about.

rreed@observer.com Angelina and the Atonement Guy Miss Target in Killer Thriller