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A Vulgar Display of Violence

Wanted is a blazing gun show masquerading as a parable about self-empowerment, or something like that. It cries out for the workers of the world to unite and improve their lot by becoming savage mercenaries, and even proposes an unorthodox health plan: candle-wax baths for trainees, who must endure a series of sadistic beatings before theyíre allowed to administer them.

Wesley (James McAvoy), an alienated office drone saddled with a cheating girlfriend, is up to the challenge, or so he thinks. Recruited by the Fraternity, a 1,000-year-old clan of assassins, he is all too happy to abandon his cubicle for a training program that includes daily torture at hands of men with names like The Repairman and The Exterminator. He doesnít look back, although itís hard not to wonder why. The answer, of course, is Fox (Angelina Jolie, in fine form), whose impish, slyly seductive smirk would be more than enough to turn most men to crime.

While Wesley proves adept at killing -- he can bend it like Beckham on the firing range -- heís not entirely swayed by the philosophy of his enigmatic mentor, Sloan (Morgan Freeman). Ever the mystic, Sloan claims his murderous decrees are divined from Fate itself, but Wesley isnít convinced. He makes the mistake of questioning orders, and pays a hefty price.

Wanted marks the American debut of Timur Bekmambetov, who wrote and directed the Russian blockbusters Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006), and give the man his due -- heís not timid. He embraces the most lurid depictions of violence with a sincere fascination, training his camera on bullets as they tear, in agonizingly slow motion, through the skulls of his victims. Itís artful to a point, but Bekmambetov seems far too in love with his own style. He repeats himself early and often, piling on the carnage until the initial thrill is hopelessly squandered.

Beyond that, Wanted has little to offer, beyond a dubious philosophy that could easily be mistaken for nihilism if not for its proletarian leanings. We can choose to be drones, the movie seems to be saying, or we can pick up a gun and dictate our own destinies. Itís a call to arms, just not a very convincing one.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars