Wanted is the ultimate fan boy fantasy come true. Not in the way it satisfies a geeky thirst like the LOTR Trilogy, a Hellboy sequel, some Xena fan fiction, or a book signing with Bruce Campbell, no, but in the way the screen action duplicates a kick-ass situation the pasty pudgies have always daydreamed about. James McAvoy's dud-to-stud character, Wesley Gibson, is reassured many times that "He's the man!". Uh-huh. Toss in taking a naked steam bath next to Lara Croft, then tongue-kissing her in front of your shady ex-girlfriend, and you've got hot box office property for lonely white males between the ages of 18-40 (45... erm, 60?).
Too bad, then, that Wanted is a waste. Russian director Timur Bemambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch, etc.) gets his first American studio project in Wanted, and to his credit, he goes all out for it. There are enough over-the-top visual gags front loaded in the film's first quarter to keep your eyes excited, but, like last year's Shoot 'Em Up, the buzz fades once an attempt at serious storytelling settles in.
The touchstone for this new style of XBox action flick was 2006's underrated Crank. (Strangely enough, it bombed in theaters, but generated enough of a cult following on DVD to produce a sequel this fall.) Crank's writing & directing partners, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, understood the b-movie tactic of rolling out a basic premise and letting anything-goes action and acting grip the wheel for the remaining 90 minutes.
Crank was the first film I saw that successfully drew from the energy of video game culture and then channeled it into cinema. It's an artful, short attention span download of a time that would've been huge had it not been branded with an R rating. (A rating it deserved, by the way. Any softening of it to get a coveted PG-13 would've missed the point.)
Although James McAvoy is enjoyable to watch doing his best imitation of Clive Owen genre transitioning, the rest of the cast are frozen in a film where "be animated" should be shouted on set before the clap of every slate. Angelina Jolie needed to be chewing-up scenery as Fox the sexy assassin, yet she stilts around like the buttoned-up Mrs. Smith. And Morgan Freeman makes you long for the roles where he played the voice of reason to knee-jerk violence instead of a bad-ass mofo with a thousand yard stare. Indeed, when Freeman actually utters the words "kill this motherfu*ker!" you do a little hiccup in your seat. It's like hearing your mom cuss for the first time.
But Wanted's biggest blunder is its whiny take-this-job-and-shove-it subplot. It's a bit Office Space, and a megabyte of Fight Club-y white male malaise. Wesley's boss is a bitch, his best friend is banging his girlfriend, and he's on prescription downers. His dad - if the S.O.B. didn't leave him and his mom after Wesley was born - probably wonders how he fathered "the most irrelevant person on Earth." But by becoming an assassin, Wesley finally learns "who he is", and in the film's final bookend rewind CGI spasm he reminds us of his eye opening transformation from dud-to-stud, and says, "What have you ever done???" I don't know man. In comparison, probably not that much. But your movie just kinda sucked pretty hard, so I'll stick with the day job.