HOLLYWOOD — The movie is called “Wanted” and the star is Angelina Jolie. No, it is not a documentary.
It is, in fact, a super-stylized, wildly outlandish action flick that will pick you up, throw you around, drop you back down on the ground and leave you begging for more. It’s the ideal, mindless summer thrill ride — one you can never take too seriously, even when it starts to take itself too seriously.
Based on the graphic novels by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones, “Wanted” follows the unlikely transformation of Wesley Gibson (the increasingly versatile James McAvoy) from miserable cubicle dweller to master assassin. When we first meet him, he’s being berated yet again by his obnoxious hag of a boss; if you know anything about anything, you know that in a fantasy world like this, she will surely get hers in the end.
Jolie, as the appropriately named Fox, yanks Wesley from his dreary life and introduces him to The Fraternity, a secret society of freakishly skilled, highly trained killers — of whom his recently murdered father, the man he never knew, was the best of the best. They’ve been around for 1,000 years and, as their cover, they work in a textile mill. Because no one would ever suspect that.
Kazakhstan-born director Timur Bekmambetov clearly had a blast emptying his own clip of filmmaking tricks: sped-up sequences, slo-mo, curving bullets that defy the laws of physics. And he serves up one tremendous car chase that will make you apprehensive about driving through Chicago anytime soon.
When things finally reach their breathless conclusion, not a hair is out of place in Jolie’s perfect, sexy twist. She’s back in butt-kicking Mrs. Smith mode — lethal but cheeky. The diminutive McAvoy, meanwhile, maintains much of the underdog likability we saw from him in the underappreciated coming-of-age comedy “Starter for 10,” but it’s obvious he’s had a few visits with a personal trainer. (It seems the Scottish actor has also seen a dialect coach, and has come back with a solid American accent.)
Sure, you’ve seen plenty of this type of amped-up nonsense before — in the “Matrix” series, or in last summer’s ultraviolent “Shoot ’Em Up,” which was just as elaborately choreographed and edited but felt like more of an onslaught. That doesn’t make “Wanted” any less enjoyable.
And certainly you could have a philosophical debate about the merits of The Fraternity’s purpose: to kill people who were fated to do evil deeds anyway. But that would needlessly tax your brain, and there’s no room for that now. Just sit down, shut up and hold on.
“Wanted,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language and some sexuality. Running time: 110 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.