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Wanted: Dead, Not Alive

The recent spate of comic-book adaptations hits its nadir.

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It's always a little agonizing wondering what the worst movie of the year is going to be, but here we are at the halfway point, and the title of the year's worst has already been claimed: Wanted, the new action-movie comic-book adaptation starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman.

Let's be clear up front: Wanted has a few great action sequences and intermittent visual panache. It's based on one of the better comic miniseries of the last five years. The film's ambitious, but it plays out as a negative. It doesn't walk the tightrope between too much and not enough — it hangs itself with it. Wanted is truly terrible.

Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is a white-collar loser, an accountant stuck in a cubicle-correct world with no desire to move beyond it. Gibson's regularly subjected to a bullying boss, and his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. Hell, even his dad left him when he was only 7 days old. As Wesley says in narration, "I'm the most insignificant asshole of the 21st century."

That's until Gibson is rescued from a gunman's bullets by Fox (Jolie) and is informed that his dad was one of the greatest killers of all time — a member of a secret group of assassins called the Fraternity — and that Wesley has inherited all of his pop's genetic badassness and million-dollar fortune.

Faster than you can say "montage," the pathetic weakling becomes a force to be reckoned with, and he's inducted into the Fraternity. He's charged with assassinating select people, all determined by a loom, which spits out a hit list based on a complex code built into the threads. The code of the Fraternity: Kill one person and maybe save a thousand. They're the warriors of fate, the weavers of doom. Oh, yes.

Wanted piggybacks on Fight Club, Office Space, The Matrix, Terminator 2, comic-book origin stories, and fantasy coming-of-age formulas. The movie is so preposterous, it even draws into question the worth of its source material. I almost don't like fiction anymore after watching Wanted.

The film is directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who also made the visually exciting but dramatically discombobulated Night Watch (and its sequel, Day Watch). Bekmambetov is talented but shows no restraint. Wanted is shot and edited like an epileptic seizure. There are a number of gee-whiz moments — usually spooling in slo-mo — but it's hard to appreciate them amidst all the chaos. Bekmambetov makes 100-image-a-second movies in a 24-frame-a-second medium. It's too much.

The comic book that Wanted is based on is light years away from the film in terms of plot, back story, and theme. In the book, Wesley becomes an actual villain — a murderer and a rapist who, in the infamous last few pages (Spoiler Alert!), tells the fanboy reader just what's going on in the world while everybody's spending their time consuming pop culture.

Sure, no studio is dropping tens of millions of dollars to make that movie. But, in trying to make the characters fundamentally good guys, the filmmakers have made the whole enterprise morally repugnant. The comic was mean; the movie is mean-spirited. There's no subversion or satire, just good ole American violent consumerism. Built, as it is, on the absurd loom-and-weavers premise (an addition just for the movie —  thanks, screenwriters!), Wanted is a great cinematic abortion. It's not as steep a drop-off from source material to film as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but that's the ass it's sniffing.

Wanted

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