I have a confession to make: I like seeing people get punched in the face. I’ve always kind of wanted to be in a fistfight. In my high school cafeteria I once witnessed a girl break a Snapple bottle in half and lunge with it at her opponent, also female. I don’t think anyone got hurt in that fight, but I saw another one before I graduated where a huge boy had bitten off piece of his tongue. A security guard picked the piece of tongue up off the floor and put it in his pocket.
But these aren’t the fights I fantasize about. I just want to get one good punch in and maybe spray a little blood on the wall. And I guess it would be okay if the same thing happened to me in the process. Perhaps this bloodlust is the reason why I deeply enjoyed Wanted, a movie admittedly plagued by some truly bad writing and unimaginative choices. The whole thing hit me like a roundhouse punch to the face, but in a good way: I felt jolted awake, even as I laughed with incredulity at some of the wooden dialogue.
Wanted suffers from several action movie clichés, including a mindless voiceover that nearly derailed the film for me – it doesn’t help that James McAvoy’s American accent sounds painfully singsongy, like a smart-alecky British kid making fun of the Yanks with lines like “I am the perfect weapon” spoken in a dead-serious drawl. I was aksi put off by Janice, McAvoy’s emasculating boss. Interesting things could have been done with this character – she could have been an attractive woman (maybe Angeline Jolie should have had this role) or a man, but instead the writers were lazy and made her an easy target: an overweight middle-aged woman. Janice is a foregone conclusion as soon as you see her: of course she’s awful, of course she’s an object of ridicule, because she’s fat! And not young! Hilarious use of a generic foreign country is also present; the crowd at the Prague cineplex where I saw the movie tittered when McAvoy and Jolie go to “Moravia,” represented by a Prague tram station.
Despite these not-inconsequential problems, the film moves along at an often-hilarious breakneck pace with infectious enthusiasm. It’s like that one really emotionally stunted friend we all had when we were fifteen who was incredibly good at video games but could barely get a sentence out in conversation. He could be frustrating to hang out with, and you were out of luck if you had a crush on him, but it could be pretty awesome to watch him play video games for a few hours. The Chicago portrayed in the film, while a far cry from the actual neighborhoods I grew up around, has an internal logic and symmetry that is emotionally true to the city, and an especially fine use is made of the El.
Endnote: in their review of the film, the A.V. Club references "McAvoy's Bud Cort-with-sex appeal looks," which further propels my fear that James McAvoy may age a as Bud Cort has.