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Angie, Get Your Guns

Jolie kills, Carell smarts, Hunter Thompson blasts from the past.

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Along with every other hyperbolic critical adjective, “state-of-the-art” has been devalued by overuse, so let’s move the boundary posts and proclaim Wanted “state-of-the-art state-of-the-art.” Assassins propel themselves through space, distend time, bend bullets like Beckham, and live both dangerously and parabolically: Yoweeee! What a ride on the cyber-whoosh rapids! It takes about an hour after it’s over for the heart to slow, the brain to recalibrate, and the nonsensicalness of the thing to sink in: I fell for that??? By then, you’ll have already babbled to a few dozen friends and strangers, “You gotta see this movie!!!” It’s like the bighearted urge to share your Ecstasy at a party.

The premise itself isn’t world-shattering: Wanted is the standard summer-thriller mishmash of blockbusters past, from The Matrix (obviously) to The Terminator to Star Wars to Harry Potter, with a bit of Bourne for ballast. All feature protagonists who suddenly discover their specialness (“Your long-awaited destiny…,” etc.) along with latent powers they must learn to control (“Let your instincts guide you …,” etc.), a journey that becomes a metaphor for growing up, achieving autonomy, etc. Skinny Scottish darling James McAvoy puts on an American accent for his first Hollywood FX blockbuster as Wesley Gibson, a timid accountant (“I’m an accountant!”) who gobbles fistfuls of anti-anxiety pills to counter palpitations (flub-dub, flub-dub) and peculiar wobbles in the space-time continuum. Refilling a prescription, he finds his jitters are about to increase exponentially: There beside him stands Angelina Jolie, who utters the picture’s equivalent of “Come with me if you want to live”—only with a twinkle of amusement, as if the whole gazillion-dollar movie were her little toy.

The first act of Wanted might be subtitled “Waiting for Angelina.” She’s neither the hero nor the villain (it’s a supporting role), but her aura is essential: Amid all the artificiality, she’s a natural wonder, with novel permutations of nature-nurture nuttiness. Offscreen, we know her as both an occasional home-wrecker and a fervently articulate do-gooder—a tantalizing mix. Onscreen, her aura reshapes every scene. Laugh all you like, but she’d be a great Hedda Gabler. Can she project vulnerability? Yes—she had a moment, believe it or not, in the Lara Croft sequel before blowing away her true love. But she’ll never be a crying-on-the-inside kind of gal. She’s too well defended.

In Wanted, she plays Fox (just Fox), the distaff member of an ancient fraternity of assassins presided over by Morgan Freeman. She whisks Wesley out of apparent harm’s way by firing bullets that seem like extensions of her will, then steers a car with her long legs while directing a fusillade at the terminator on their tail—a rogue assassin (Thomas Kretschmann) now picking off old colleagues. When fraternity members train Wesley, rather brutally, in the art of harnessing his powers, Jolie sits back, has a little snack, and meets the pummeled accountant’s eyes when the mood strikes her. Could any other actress convey so much while emoting so little?

Jolie is a happy distraction from a lot of twaddle (the movie is based on a comic-book series) about mystical coded messages that show up in a giant loom and appear to be hits ordered by God—who you’d think could take out people on His own with the occasional bolt of lightning. But the deft script (by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, and Chris Morgan) ends up inverting many of the Matrix tropes it appropriates. (The denouement is a triumph of rug pulling.) And Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazakhstan-born director who made the head-trippy vampire opus Night Watch, is a killer when it comes to mixing fast and slow motion in ways that screw up your biorhythms: You feel as if you’re riding on the back of those curving bullets as they hit their targets with a satisfying splat. Wanted has the kind of irresistible summer-movie allure that makes studio executives drool in anticipation. Even its title must swim before their eyes and transform into “Want-to-See.”

Get Smart is likable and very funny—at least a two-to-one ratio of excellent gags to clunkers—but it’s not, for better or worse, Get Smart. In spite of the ridiculous malfunctioning secret-agent gadgets, the sixties Mel Brooks–Buck Henry sitcom wasn’t so much a James Bond parody as an American espionage reworking of Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau. Agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) might have fancied himself 007, but he was a preening boob without a trace of self-awareness—which ironically ensured his triumph over his rational (and therefore easily flummoxed) foes. Peter Segal’s star-packed update is bursting with uproarious gadget shtick, but Steve Carell’s Max simply isn’t the idiot we knew and loved.

On his own terms, Carell is delightful. But he’s delightful as a mild-mannered know-it-all whose occasional flights of grandiosity can’t keep him from plummeting to Earth. He’s plucky but not impervious. He’s the hero of the deskbound techie nerds at headquarters, the geek who gets to move from his analyst job into the field and prove he has the wherewithal to think on his feet. (There’s a genius bit at a urinal.) It’s a valid question whether we’d want another obtuse, Don Adams–like Agent 86. Get Smart the sitcom was a one-joke affair and got tedious fast, whereas Carell’s starry-eyed dweeb has room for nuance, for growth, for inspiration. A case can be made for both Maxes. Me, I miss the thickie.


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