Monday, August 11, 2008

They Shoot Pretty People, Don't They?

I saw Shoot 'Em Up in theaters last year and absolutely loved it. It was a blast (no pun intended, but I'll take it). Most critics hated it. They thought it was too violent. Well, yeah, that's the point; however, it seems like they all missed it. Writer/director Michael Davis exaggerates the violence and exploits the clichés of the action genre for comic effect. It's clear that Davis loves the genre that he's mocking, so it's an affectionate homage as well as being a very intelligent, entertaining movie in its own right.

I think Shoot 'Em Up is the movie that Wanted aspired, and failed, to be. I saw Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, a long time ago (opening weekend, actually), and as I predicted then, I have mostly forgotten it. From the trailer and the ads, Wanted seemed to be in the same parody vein as Shoot 'Em Up. I mean, obviously, the massive quantities of curved bullets and the ridiculous scenarios couldn't be serious, right? Wrong. Well, mostly wrong, anyway. There were moments that were downright farcical, as well as some playful "breaking the fourth wall" stuff that I liked a lot. But ultimately, Wanted takes itself too seriously, and that's the fatal blow.

Oh, sure, Wanted is entertaining enough sporadically. The special effects are pretty cool...the first thousand times or so. Really, does everything need to be in slow-mo? It's too show-offy, and since Wanted kind of drags, maybe it's not the best course of action to prolong that feeling. And WE GET IT - the bullets curve! Learn a new trick!

The acting is enjoyable. Morgan Freeman gets to play a badass bad guy for once (whoops, spoiler? I can't remember if that's a huge secret, but trust me, it doesn't matter) and has some hilarious lines. Angelina Jolie is back in badass form herself. She's hot, sexy, aloof eye candy, but not much else, although to be fair to Jolie, who I respect a lot, her character isn't really required to be more than that.

On that note, Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy are beautiful, beautiful people. They're hot. Easy on the eyes. So, let me pause to include some gratuitous pictures:

Pretty people with guns. God bless America.

[Insert segway back to the review here.]

James McAvoy stole the show for me. I loved seeing him playing an assassin-in-training so soon after seeing him in a weepy melodrama (Atonement). His character in Wanted is Wesley, a corporate cubicle drone (the Office Space vibe is perfect because he really sells it). McAvoy brings nuance to the role and actually made me care (a little) about Wesley's conflict - should he stay at his humdrum job and be a nobody all his life, or, don't laugh, should he follow his destiny, become an assassin, and be a part of something bigger?

The fact that McAvoy made me care at all is a triumph for him as an actor, because the plot is rather stupid and unremarkable. This fraternity of assassins, which is centuries and centuries old, was started by, I guess, weavers. They take their orders from the - are you ready for it? - Loom of Fate. The Loom...of Fate. Sigh. The loom literally weaves out a name, and they kill that person. Right, I'm sure fabric is never wrong. The Loom of Fate is perhaps the lamest plot device/prop ever. Stick a curved bullet in this movie. It's done.

Pop quiz, Hot Shot: what do you get when a movie isn't smart, thrilling, or inventive enough to be a great action film, cleverly over-the-top, insightful, or committed enough to be a parody, and has no substance or story to fill in the gaps?

Answer: Wanted.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

P.S. The Loom of Fate has just produced a name for me: Danny Elfman.

How I could have neglected to mention him in this review confounds me. Danny Elfman composed the score for Wanted, which, honestly, I don't remember one bit. And I don't plan on refreshing my memory. Sorry, Danny. I wasn't really paying attention to the score because I didn't know it was him until the end credits rolled. When his name popped up, I was stunned. I guess the score's adequate for what it needs to be. Whatever, though. I highly suspect that this was a paycheck movie for him and the main actors.

That being said, I somehow found my way to the score on iTunes because I did recall a killer song over the end credits. To my surprise and considerable delight, the song, entitled "The Little Things," one of the best alt-rock tracks I've heard in years, was written and performed by...Danny Elfman! Songwriting, in the lyric-y sense, is rare for him since he gave up his music career to focus on compositional work, so I cherish this song because I know how special it is coming from him now. His voice is smooth, melodic, commanding, sexy, catchy perfection. He hasn't lost his rocker touch one bit over the years.

This song is the best part of Wanted. Download it.

Phew. I'm glad the Loom of Fate had my back on that one...


Anonymous said...

Excellent review! You've made me quite glad I missed this one when it came out back in June (sadly, I caught the equally disappointing Hancock instead). Your inclusion of the gratuitous pictures is perfect, since in the case of Wanted, a series of still photos may be more enjoyable than the film itself.

I confess I like both actors, Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, and am glad their next projects will offer a deserving showcase of their abilities--Jolie with the Oscar contender Changeling, and McAvoy with The Last Station (where he gets to act alongside Paul Giamatti and Helen Mirren).

Speaking of Giamatti, I love your comparison of Wanted with the superior Shoot 'Em Up, which I also thought was an underrated gem. The brilliantly over-the-top action choreography was like an Astarie/Rogers reunion in hell, while Owen and Giamatti delivered their ridiculous lines with sublimely snarky humor. Owen's inexplicable temper tantrums brought down the house, especially when he beat down a guy simply for exhaling loudly while sipping coffee.

Taking this kind of giddy garbage seriously is a big mistake, which is what you express so well in your review. I especially love the whole thing about the Loom of Fate's infallible weaving ("Right, I'm sure fabric is never wrong"). Keep up the great work. Your blogs are always a joy to read.

Anonymous said...

Danny Elfman is always one of the best parts of every film he works on. I love when he draws on his "Oingo Boingo" roots and gets to write and sing for his films. His performance of "What Is This?" in Nightmare Before Christmas was exhilerating. I can't wait to hear "The Little Things," especially if it allows him the chance to revive his "rocker touch." Next to John Williams, he's the best and most versatile film composer we've got.