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Wanted 

Hooray for summer: A high-octane, good-looking action film zooms into theaters

Wesley Gibson has an awful, soul-draining job, but he's about to launch into a head-clearing, invigorating new career as an assassin. It seems even killing strangers beats filing TPS reports, or whatever he does in his paper-and-staples hell.

Wanted is the story of Gibson's transformation, a kinetic, effects-laden actioner adapted from Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' graphic novel. It's pure summer popcorn, packed with high-speed action, attractive stars and some laughs -- and is just ridiculous enough to enjoy as a quality junk food.

James McAvoy (Atonement) portrays Gibson, a directionless sad-sack, who, on one lunch hour, is whisked away by a beautiful, gun-toting, fearless woman. He winds up at the headquarters of an ancient guild of weaver-assassins known as the Fraternity. (Yes, weavers: It will, in time, make a certain kind of comic-book sense.)

Gibson's estranged dad was a member, recently killed by a rogue colleague. Fraternity boss Sloane (Morgan Freeman) wants payback. Who better than Gibson, who harbors undeveloped extra-ordinary skills? Who else to train him, than his scary-cool abductress (Angelina Jolie)?

Jolie is in full fetish mode here -- wispy, white girlish picnic garb paired with spike heels and huge guns. She has few lines: Mostly, Jolie smolders, while making barely perceptible adjustments to her arched brows, smoky eyes and full lips. It's clear she can kick our collective asses, and it's great fun, after these endless months of Saint Brangelina, to have Jolie back as a sinewy bad girl.

Wanted is an easy-on-the-noggin story, juiced up with familiar comics tropes: the avenging son, the shadowy group in a gothic lair righteously restoring order, the sexual charge of violence, the amped-up weapons, a brotherhood beset by betrayal from within, and a splash of moralizing. Needless to say, both the action scenes and the underlying story require much suspension of disbelief.

Timur Bekmambetov, who directed the recent Russian imports Day Watch and Night Watch, makes his American feature debut, and his enthusiasm for an ample budget likely fuels the film's underlying giddiness. (His previous films each cost less than $5 million, which doesn't even hire a star in Hollywood.)

But a word to the squeamish: The fact that Wanted is cartoonish doesn't make the violence any less graphic. There's plenty of blood, face pummeling, realistic wounds and too many head shots to count. (The first makes a perfect entry match with an Indian woman's bindi; the last is a head shot for the history books.) But there's a certain élan to all the bullet-fu, a Hong Kong sensibility that treats every fired shot as worthy of its own shimmering inset film.

Also cranking up the cool-tricks budget is a pair of requisite but well-done car-chases. (In these days of petro-gloom, we should learn to embrace any and all vicarious high-octane speed-fests.) But my favorite over-the-top sequence of transportation mayhem involved a train: There hasn't been a European rail journey this outrageously disastrous since The Cassandra Crossing. As they say in the trailers: Hold onto your seats.

 

Starts Fri., June 27.

click to enlarge Meat is murder: James McAvoy in training.
  • Meat is murder: James McAvoy in training.

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