A randomly comprehensive survey of extraordinary movie experiences from the art house to the grindhouse, featuring the good, the bad, the ugly, but not the boring or the banal.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
In Brief: WANTED (2008)
In light of my comments on silent comedy below, I'm actually a little glad to see films like Timur Bekmambetov's maiden American effort keeping up the old Mack Sennett tradition of absurdist slapstick. Some of the gags in this comics-derived extravaganza put me in mind of Keystone classics like Super Hooper-Dyne Lizzies or Lizzies of the Field, or any of the ones with lots of car crashes, and I bet that old Ben Turpin could curve a bullet with the best of them if he had to, except that he'd probably have to use a curved gun to get the effect. He and Sennett would have killed (not literally, one hopes) to have thought up a gag like the big climax in the current film where the lead harridan sends one bullet in a circle through a roomful of heavies before finally braining herself. I'm sure Sennett would also have envied the bit where the hero hits his so-called friend with a keyboard, sending keys flying to form an expletive that Sennett himself, however, probably would have avoided. But while it's nice to see that the comic tradition survives, I do wish this film were a bit more comical. Like many early Keystones, Wanted suffers from every character in the movie being about equally obnoxious. That's part of their anarchic spirit, of course, but in this case I kept waiting for the insufferable self-pitying twit who happens to be the hero to get his own comeuppance, yet it never happened. It seemed as if we were actually meant to empathize with him in his initial plight of white-collar drudgery, but that can't be right. The better ending for this movie would have been for Wesley (James McAvoy) to wake from his fantastic dream to find himself the object of some practical joke in the office. But those reservations shouldn't eclipse the clever bits like the blatantly telegraphed Star Wars parody (oh, the "villain" killed your "father," did he?) or the skillful work of the man who can parry bullets with his butcher knife. Also, it's not really this film's fault that Burn After Reading satirized the whole "everything you know is a lie" school of screenwriting more effectively. As a whole, however, this movie is too often either too absurd or not absurd enough, and my own preference is for the Hal Roach style of comedy, which Robert Youngson said was funniest when you could almost believe that the gags could actually happen.
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I do owe the film one other good word. Danny Elfman's "The Little Things" belongs right alongside Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" as an unjustly unnominated movie song. What was the Academy thinking to not think of these?