Cheekbones, eye shadow, tattoos and lips — that's the essence of Angelina Jolie.
And guns. At least, that's what this skinny action heroine amounts to in Wanted, a nervy, stylish and deeply silly movie about a clan of assassins training its newest recruit.
James McAvoy is that recruit, a downtrodden Chicago cubicle drone who suffers from anxiety attacks and apologizes for everything. Until, that is, "Fox" (Jolie, natch) shows up and "rescues" him from his dull life of victimhood, shows him "your long-awaited destiny to join us" and teaches him to use "the weapons of fate."
In lesser hands, this amoral shoot-em-up might have been as goofy as those portentous, pretentious pronouncements from the leader of The Fraternity, Morgan Freeman. But with two Oscar-winners finessing the most ludicrous lines, and Kazakh cult hero Timur Bekmambetov (Russian vampire movies Night Watch and Day Watch) directing, shooting and editing this into a too-cool, too-manic seizure-inducing blur, Wanted hurtles past our eyes and ears too fast to register as much more than a video game.
McAvoy (Atonement, Last King of Scotland) plays Wesley, who never knew his father. Since his father was a member of this time-slowing, bullet-bending clan of genetic freaks, that makes Wesley special and recruitable.
The Fraternity drags him into a castlelike textile mill where they beat him, cut him and teach him to put topspin on bullets, all so that they can assassinate those Chicagoans and others in need of assassinating.
Once he sees how cool, cruel and confident their training makes him, Wesley is down for their mission. He is to "kill the man who gunned down your father." Eventually.
The car chases and shootouts are epic, with Fox taking the new lad out for an occasional joy ride in a stolen car or jaunt along the roof of an El train. Jolie really sells these stunts and effects. But the training, the tedious super-human/supernatural explanations and Empire Strikes Back/Bible Codeplot twists bog the picture down.
And then there's that whole troubling mission thing, shooting people you don't know.
"We don't know how far the ripples of our decisions go," Wesley is told. True. But is that a justification for gunning down somebody you've never met and know nothing about? Maybe in the graphic novel this was based on, or in first-person-shooter video-game ethics, that "Don't ask, don't think about it" works.
The visual verve makes Wanted a fine Hollywood calling card for Bekmambetov, who is ready for a Bourne film or whatever action picture the studios can dream up. Diminutive Scot McAvoy makes a decent action hero.
But Wanted is, more than anything, proof that no woman in film history has handled a gun with as much exotic panache as the once-and-future Tomb Raider.
It's Jolie's pistol-packing-mama-to-be world, and we're all just innocent bystanders, hoping we duck in time.
See the trailer and find local showtimes for "Wanted."