Take one part THE MATRIX, one part FIGHT CLUB, two parts THE MATRIX, one part EQUILIBRIUM (one part THE MATRIX, one part straight to video), and one part THE MATRIX, but not as good, and you have the new motion picture WANTED. James Macavoy (the British Zach Braff) plays an unhappy office drone who out of the blue has his world turned upside down when a super hot asskicking gun babe in leather tells him he’s destined to be a super warrior and whisks him off to a secret organization of gun-obsessed rebels who teach him how to bend reality, do super gun tricks and martial arts in various showoffy camera-rotating slo-mo special effects action sequences, killing enemies without feeling bad because they have complete faith in the righteousness of their mission.
But there’s no computer world involved so on second thought this is not at all like THE MATRIX in any way. I doubt these filmatists even know about THE MATRIX. This is probaly one of those “yeah, people told me afterwards it was like THE MATRIX, but honestly I never heard of it, it’s just a weird coincidence” type deals. Plus Morgan Freeman plays Morpheus instead of Laurence Fishburne. Totally different. 100% new and original creation.
Okay, I have to admit that I somewhat enjoyed this dumb ass movie, but I think I’m still within my rights as an action fan to bust its movie balls, because there are rules. Once again I must refer to my “action movies are like the blues” comparison. In the blues there are traditions, there are standards, you don’t have to be shockingly original, you can follow a traditional sound and then put your own spin on it, express yourself from within that framework. But you don’t blatantly copy one specific person’s unique style. You don’t copy Jimi Hendrix’s approach to blues, for example, or if Muddy Waters’ ‘Electric Mud’ had caught on you would’ve looked like an asshole if all the sudden you came out with your acid rock blues album.
In an action movie there are books and books worth of cliches that are open for the taking. But when a specific movie comes along and is really original, or has a big impact, you look pathetic when you imitate it. When the Wachowski brothers made THE MATRIX it was cool, because nobody had made THE MATRIX before. When you’re the fourth or fifth guy to make THE MATRIX it’s not as cool. Plus THE MATRIX had this subtext to it with this rebellious response to modern life. WANTED tries to do the same thing by hollowly aping FIGHT CLUB and OFFICE SPACE without feeling as sincere or authentic. It comes across more like “Hey, you kids like this nihilistic stuff right? Me too! Do you want to come over to my apartment and play videogames? I’ll let you smoke. Don’t tell your mom.”
Okay, I’m probaly out of line to imply that the movie is gonna make an inappropriate pass at you. But you could argue it is a little sick in the head. It ultimately seems to argue that yes, there are certain people who are fated to be murdered and it is a good idea for this guy to kill them in order to improve his self esteem. Which, in my opinion, I disagree with. I’m not worried that it’s gonna harm society or nothin, I’m just saying it’s a stupid movie. I don’t get the idea these people are necessarily smart enough to even have thought through what exactly they were trying to say. It’s like how EQUILIBRIUM was trying to be 1984, and then going backwards trying to figure out what it’s saying about society, and never fucking getting there. These guys started with the shiny surface of FIGHT CLUB and THE MATRIX and then never got any deeper than that. And didn’t even do the surface as good. But okay I guess.
By the way, I’m happy to report that Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” does not appear anywhere in the movie, not even a new version featuring L’il Wayne over the end credits.
The movie actually starts with the feel of some comedy. Macavoy is in an office, the music is cheesy comedy rock and he’s narrating about how much he hates his life. His boss is a cartoonish fat lady who he thinks is mean to him and he glares at her as they’re eating birthday cake. I am 100% sure that director Russian Guy Who Did Those Nightwatch Movies I Still Haven’t Watched saw OFFICE SPACE but with bad Russian subtitles and thought the “somebody has a case of the Mondays” secretary lady was the boss. Because otherwise I have no idea why this is supposed to be a universally relatable dilemma that your boss is a flamboyantly made up fat lady and your way of sticking it to the man is to make fun of her for eating donuts. Or maybe plus sized ladies rule the corporate world in Russia, I’m not sure. They didn’t cover that in ROCKY IV.
During the training is when the FIGHT CLUB comes in. He gets the shit beat out of him and smiles as blood drips out of his nose and mouth and through narration we learn how it improves his image of himself and inspires him to go into work and get violent revenge on the co-workers he doesn’t like. It’s so blatant that when Edward Norton rolls in his grave so do Eric Bana and Lou Ferrigno.
You know what it is? Copying THE MATRIX and FIGHT CLUB is like being one of those dudes who wore the Michael Jackson “Beat It” jacket after that video came out. Maybe that guy is still your friend but you’re gonna make fun of him for years. It’s hard to respect that guy or this movie. Somehow it would be much more dignified to just be a little DIE HARD, a little DIRTY HARRY, some kung fu. But whatever. If you stick with it long enough to be able to look it in the eye it is fairly entertaining. One of the saving graces is the action scenes. Yes, they’re derivative of THE MATRIX, and not as good. But they do come up with some good over-the-top action ideas. My favorite is when he causes his car to flip over another car so he can shoot into the sunroof. And that badass shot from the trailer where she does a 360 skid in her car, scooping Macavoy off the street into the passenger seat. There’s alot of focus on computer animated bullets as they fly through the air. They add a few unmatrix touches like the bullets colliding with each other in mid-air and also having words and elaborate designs engraved into them, that was kind of cool. And there’s a pretty crazy train crash scene (where, my buddy Mr. Armageddon points out with glee, about a hundred people had to have died, but they never even bother to mention it).
I wouldn’t say any of these are classic scenes, but they’re well done. I came looking for some ridiculousness and I got it. There were moments that made me think of SHOOT ‘EM UP. That one went further and had alot more clever ideas in it, but the scenes weren’t staged as well, the editing was choppier and the camera too closeup. So these ones worked a little better for me on a gut level.
The best thing about the movie though is Angelina Jolie. I’ve honestly never given her much thought before this movie, but now I understand why certain people drool over her. There are hundreds of actresses that are hot, but not as many that are scary-hot. So hot it’s kind of scary and so scary it’s kind of hot. Jolie has it, to the point that for BEOWULF when Robert Zemeckis needed an animated character who was a terrifying demon and yet tempting enough for two kings to give up their kingdoms in exchange for sticking it in her for a minute his solution was to just scan Jolie into a computer. She used to be cute and all but she’s turned into some weird exotic creature with sexuality threatening to explode out of her lips. And her eyes look down on you like she’s planning to suffocate you with a pillow and throw you in the garbage afterwards. But you and Beowulf both figure it would probaly be worth it.
I’ve never been that into her but it’s great to see her drop the serious actor/UN ambassador bit for a minute to just kick ass and look sexy in a lowbrow stupid movie like this. Why not have a little fun after you played the wife of the real life journalist who was beheaded while on assignment? I never saw that movie but it couldn’t have been fun to concentrate on something like that for a year, so she’s earned the right to slink around on top of a moving train and shoot bullet curveballs around corners.
Like fellow babe turned serious actor turned slumming super hero Charlize Theron in AEON FLUX, Jolie seems completely dedicated to the attitude and physicality of this character. There’s a pretty funny scene where Macavoy’s soon to be ex-girlfriend is yelling at him calling him a loser and Jolie decides to walk in and kiss him just to freak the girl out. They did a good job of casting it because the ex looks like a regular blonde girl you might know. She thinks she has this power over him, then she sees Jolie and instantly melts into a puddle of inadequacy. Jolie looks almost as unreal as she did in BEOWULF when she actually wasn’t real.
(Then again, maybe that’s why she was willing to do this role – she just let them use the computer version while she was off feeding orphans and disarming landmines and shit. Expect HACKERS 2 any time now.)
Rapper and noted hat collector Common is a member of “The Fraternity” and looks pretty cool, but don’t get excited. He doesn’t do anything in the movie. I heard Angelina Jolie had her character’s dialogue trimmed in order to make it cooler – a good idea. Maybe Common also had his dialogue, and action, and purpose in the story slimmed down. Very humble of him. I was also surprised when Terence Stamp showed up but I don’t mind giving it away since he doesn’t end up doing much of anything either. They got THE LIMEY in the movie but they think he’s the guy from ELEKTRA. Also it would’ve been cool if Morgan Freeman did a flip or something.
I’ve seen a few reviews that in my opinion give this movie too much credit. Maybe I’ll change my mind after watching NIGHTWATCH and DAYWATCH, but I can’t see how a director could be a visionary at all and make a movie that leans this much on blatantly copying other movies. Maybe for your low budget start but not for your big budget American sellout movie anyway. But I do admit this guy has some chops in the action directing and the balls to try some clearly illogical and absurd concepts (for example this entire movie is about people who have a loom and they look at the fabric it weaves with magnifying glasses and read codes based on the threading to find the names of strangers who they will then assassinate). So with some reservations I endorse this as a fun time at the movies. If you’ve seen all the actually good movies out there right now it’s not a bad choice I guess.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.