Friday, June 27, 2008

Run and gun

That a Supreme Court craven to the Bush administration reaffirmed the Second Amendment was no shock. Nor was the counterblast that awoke me this morning on NPR, which implied that gun-toting lunatics would be blasting away at passers-by within hours, if not minutes. It is unfortunate--the "right to bear arms" is the Constitutional equivalent of original sin--but I will for now trust the more moderate pundits on both sides of the fence and my own inclination to believe that the nation will not come to further harm because of this latest turn to the right.

Bad timing, then, for Wanted, this week's "graphic novel" adaptation, novels without pictures and ready-made storyboards too difficult for producers to grasp anymore. I doubt it'll hurt the bottom line, though I don't think it will shatter the boxoffice ceiling on R-rated pictures of its type. Not as crude as last year's abominable Shoot 'Em Up, but not quite Noel Coward, either, the film is, like so many of its ilk, machine-tooled to be absorbed and forgotten by fickle, thrill-seeking audiences till the DVD promo push begins. But coming the day after yesterday's news its message rubs me the wrong way.

The film is a hostile, fuck-everything empowerment fantasy, The Matrix minus the sci-fi frippery and philosophizing, or Fight Club without nuance or critique. The slightly built James McAvoy leaves the arthouse and (most of) his Scottish accent behind to play an oppressed office worker too weak to beat back his awful girlfriend, turncoat best friend, and fat- pig lady boss. Salvation arrives at the barrel of a gun: Angelina Jolie, a convincing human being in some pictures and a reasonable facsimile of a digital effect here, saves him from an assassination attempt, which involves fancy bullets that curve like bowling balls and car-fu with flipping vehicles. The perpetually statesmanlike Morgan Freeman informs him of his clouded birthright, that he is part of an international fraternity of superhero-ish stone-cold killers that takes its assignments from the thousand-year-old "Loom of Fate," which rather than T-shirts spits out the names of bad guys. (Worse, of course, than our nominal heroes, not that anyone civilian seems particularly bothered by their constant carnage. Weaving and textiles, however, could be all the rage if it takes off.)

McAvoy's character is a right wing kook's wet dream. His immersion in guns, knives, and fighting technique makes him a better person, perfectly suited for clandestine fantasy battles. He bootstraps himself from worm to warrior, leaves the white-collar grind behind, bulks up to pint-sized humanoid status, and lives off the grid with the bodacious Jolie. Following what looked to me like an epic CGI homage to, of all things, the Sophia Loren train wreck picture The Cassandra Crossing, there is a twist in the story, which obliges us to reexamine the storyline. But the fundamental message, that a bellyful of killing with bad-ass weaponry and wanton flouting of the law is necessary for all of us to "grow a pair" and stand up to our crappily corporatized lives, remains. (McAvoy's narration directly addresses all these points.)

It bugged me, just as it bugged me that the picture, which has its stylistic strengths and bursts of moxie, isn't better. The Russian director, Timur Bekmambetov, made the engrossing if uneven fantasies Night Watch and Day Watch, in a Hollywood-ready slam-bang fashion. Without better scripting, however, it's clear he's more eye than brain, and a little too eager for assimilation in our industry. Take, for example, the ending. The opportunity for a perfect deadpan finish was there, but someone in the fraternity of producers decided that the flourish-filled feature needed one more show of arms, and the whole thing ends in something of a muddle. Perhaps McAvoy is the director's stand-in and avatar, loaded for bear and swaggering, but ultimately impotent and giving the beast what it wants.

As for the gun issue, well, it is only a movie. Right? But I've seen this movie before, played out in workplaces and streets and campuses, and if someone takes this one's simplistic message to heart in our nervous times I will be ashamed to have given eight bucks to its cause.

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