December 18, 2018
Column

‘Wanted’ hits target for fans of action

In theaters

WANTED, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan, 110 minutes, rated R.

Timur Bekmambetov’s new live-action cartoon, “Wanted,” suggests that Angelina Jolie might want to consider changing her first name to something that doesn’t recall visions of halos, harps or the heavens.

Let’s offer a suggestion: Scarylina Jolie. Trust me – after watching this movie, that comes a lot closer to the mark.

Based on Mark Millar and J.G. Jones series of comic books, the film is the quintessential summer action movie. It’s ridiculous, it’s pumped with impressive action, it doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s more fun than most will accept, and it achieves exactly what it sets out to accomplish – in this case, being a nonstop, bloody ride.

For the hard-core action fan, there’s plenty to recommend here, from harrowing car chases through the streets of Chicago to disastrous train derailments in Europe. Those seeking a violent summer blockbuster will find an orgy of just that here. As a gimmick, the movie offers a doozy – the ability to shoot a gun in such a way that it curves a bullet’s trajectory. This proves especially helpful when, say, you have a foe hiding behind a slab of beef and can’t get a straight shot to kill him. What to do? Just throw yourself into the shot and curve the bullet so it hits its target.

Life over. Onto the next gunfight.

About the plot: James McAvoy (“Atonement,” “Penelope”) is Wesley Gibson, an anxiety-ridden putz who hasn’t come close to living up to his potential. He’s saddled with a difficult girlfriend who is busy steam-rolling over him, a sleazy best friend who is sleeping with Wes’ girlfriend, a cruel boss who loves to torture him and a job he hates. What’s to live for? Apparently for Wes, little more than all those calming drugs he pops throughout the day.

But one day, when he’s buying those drugs at a pharmacy, into his life comes Fox (Jolie), an intimidating, hard-looking hottie with tight, sinewy arms, at the end of which usually are loaded guns. That certainly turns out to be true the first time they meet, when they fight a fallen member of The Fraternity who is trying to kill them. As for the reason the man wants them dead, let’s just say it has something to do with the murder of Gibson’s father, an assassin he never knew.

What’s more important here is the film’s secret fraternity, which Gibson learns is an ancient organization of weavers-turned-assassins (seriously) headed by the humorless Sloan (Morgan Freeman). All want Gibson to avenge his father’s death, which allows for Gibson to become a changed man – though not without going through hell to get there.

The film’s chief conceit is that it never lets up – the movie slips into overdrive at the start and continues to barrel forward – through walls, through buildings, through whatever gets in its way. Echoes of “Rocky,” “Fight Club” and “The Matrix” movies are laced throughout, with Bekmambetov also embracing elements of the superhero genre in that “Wanted,” at its core, is about Gibson’s transformation from punk to powerhouse.

Toss in unexpected flashes of wit, game performances from all involved (especially Scarylina, who obviously came to have fun), and you have a movie that wedges itself firmly into the ongoing chaos of summer movies with its own derivative brand of gun-toting fun.

Grade: B+

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

VANTAGE POINT, directed by Pete Travis, written by Barry L. Levy, 90 minutes, rated PG-13.

Pete Travis’ political thriller, “Vantage Point,” is set in Salamanca, Spain, which is one of that country’s most beautiful, undiscovered cities.

Years ago, I spent several months in that city, and everything one would appreciate about it – from its awe-inspiring twin cathedrals to its central market area with its lively mix of restaurants and tapas bars to the formidable presence of its renowned university – is overlooked in a movie that doesn’t know what to do with any of it.

Turns out there’s good reason for that.

While Travis does nudge establishing shots of Salamanca into his movie, his film mostly was shot at a rundown mall located on the southern tip of Mexico City. There, he built a model of Salamanca’s massive Plaza Mayor, which happens to be one of Spain’s most architecturally important plazas. Though Travis is betting that Salamanca is so obscure a city that many won’t know the difference, what he fails to create in his awkward sleight-of-hand is a clear sense of place about a very specific place.

It’s strange. Since Salamanca hardly is considered a political hub, the only reason Travis had to set his film there was to capture the city’s charm and beauty. And yet he doesn’t capture it because he filmed his movie in another country located on another continent. The result is unusual, to say the least, an oddly generic-looking film about an unforgettable place rich in detail and history.

Based on Barry L. Levy’s script, “Vantage Point” is an intentionally fragmented political thriller that involves terrorists shooting the president of the United States (William Hurt) just as he’s about to deliver a speech on terrorism. The irony!

The film’s gimmick, reminiscent of the technique used in Kurosawa’s superior “Rashomon,” is revealed in its trailer. Through the vantage points of several different characters (Dennis Quaid, Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega), the audience presumably will piece together the mystery of who shot the president and why.

This tactic proves interesting for the first part of the movie, but as the film literally keeps rewinding through time in an effort to reveal new angles and fresh clues, it becomes tiresome, sloppy and – worse – comical.

Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, video podcasts, iTunes portal and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

New to DVD

Renting a DVD? BDN film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases. Those in bold print are new to stores this week.

Across the Universe – C+

American Gangster – B

Balls of Fury – D+

Bee Movie – C

The Brave One – C

The Bucket List – C+

Charlie Wilson’s War – B+

Cloverfield – B

Definitely, Maybe – B+

The Diving Bell and the

Butterfly – A

Drillbit Taylor – B-

Gone Baby Gone – B+

The Great Debaters – B+

I Am Legend – B-

I’m Not There – C-

In the Valley of Elah – B+

Jumper – D

Juno – A-

The Kite Runner – B-

Lars and the Real Girl – B+

Lust, Caution – C

Michael Clayton – A-

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – C+

No Country for Old Men – A

The Other Boleyn Girl – B-

Persepolis – A-

The Ruins – C+

The Savages – B+

Semi-Pro – BOMB

The Spiderwick Chronicles – C+

Stop-Loss – B-

Sweeney Todd – A

10,000 B.C. – D-

There Will Be Blood – A

Vantage Point – C-

Water Horse: Legend of the Deep – B

Witless Protection – D-

Youth Without Youth – C-


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