Angelina Jolie is gorgeous and ripe as an action star. There aren't too many female movie stars who can pull off Oscar-worthy performances and popcorn, kick-butt shoot-'em-ups, but she can. It's sad, however, that Jolie wastes her talents with trash like this.
First wrong step is Jolie is absent from the film for many parts including the beginning, which spends most of the time introducing us to Wesley Gibson, played by James McAvoy ("Last King of Scotland" and "Atonement"). Gibson is an office worker who feels very insignificant in life and who suffers from anxiety attacks.
Gibson hates his boss. He hates his job. He hates his best friend Barry for reasons that become obvious. He pops pills just to make it through the day. He's very timid and passive, and it's very apparent that he needs a serious change, a boost of confidence, or at least more of a purpose that's somewhat exciting or semi-interesting.
Right now, Gibson is drifting. That's until one day he's in a pharmacy filling his prescription and he gets pulled into a shootout. The shootout is between Jolie, who plays an assassin named Fox, and a man whom we get to know later as Cross.
Gibson is, of course, scared to death, as any unassuming bystander caught in a crossfire would be. Bullets are flying and Gibson is simply trying not to get hit. Fox, meantime, is stone-faced. She shows no emotion. She's cool, calm and collected, as she pulls a large machine gun with a special adapter for shooting around corners. At first, you wonder where she was hiding that gun.
The shootout is thrilling and entertaining enough that you might not care. Jolie is so sexy and stunning in appearance that any thoughts of credibility get pushed aside. The editing is very kinetic and feverish. We're immediately whipped into a car chase involving a Dodge Viper that feels like you're literally watching a blur.
Through it all, Gibson is a coward. He's making a whole lot of noise like a whiny brat. It's understandable and makes for the perfect counterpoint, which is the realization that this timid, anxiety-stricken, little chicken is himself a super assassin with reflexes so dead-on that he could shoot the wings off a fly.
Jolie's Fox is actually there to recruit Gibson into the same fraternity of assassins to which she belongs. It's kind of like in "The Matrix" (1999) when Neo was recruited by Morpheus to either take the blue pill or the red pill. Except Jolie isn't Morpheus in this case. Fellow Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby" and "Shawshenk Redemption") is this movie's Morpheus. Only he's called Sloan.
Going back to the first wrong step, it's here where we lose a lot of Jolie. Even though Sloan puts her character in charge of training Gibson to become an assassin, the most you get of Jolie is her standing in the background looking on as Gibson is put through the ringer by other people who literally beat the training into him.
Jolie merely becomes a pretty accessory. She hardly gets any lines of dialogue, and besides the Dodge Viper scene, she's not given any other really good action or shootout scenes. Freeman's Sloan is a better role than hers. In fact, it's Freeman who should have gotten a higher billing.
Gibson's training is a fair balance of comical gut-wrenching and more bloody slapstick and a somewhat serious test of faith in an identity crisis. Sadly, this violent and highly stylized action flick devolves when Gibson undergoes a Rocky-like montage that wastes time, just like this movie ultimately does.
McAvoy, who plays Gibson, just isn't that convincing as a shoot-‘em-up or even beat-‘em-up action star. In many of his previous films, McAvoy has been more of a lover not a fighter, and I think he should try to stay with that. He seems too boyish and awkward for this, which may have been the point. However, he doesn't seem to have the same edge, as when other unlikely action stars made that transition. McAvoy just isn't convincing, at least not with the haircut he has in this film.
Not to say that McAvoy couldn't do action films. He either needs to do some more growing up and bulking up physically, or else find better material than this. The script for this story was simply stupid from beginning to end. The fraternity of assassins gets its kill orders from a textile loom The fraternity is made out to be some kind of religion. Huh?
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, doing his first American film, also embraces similar Matrix-style effects in his action scenes, which a lot of films in the past half-decade have done. Bekmambetov, however, takes it to ridiculous lengths. Yes, it's based on a comic book, but what makes fantasy fun is the idea that it could be real and that it could actually happen.
Here, Bekmambetov makes every scene an absolute defiance of reality, so unbelievable, so over-the-top, so false that it saps all the fun out of it. How much fun can you have when you're constantly throwing your hands up in disbelief? When you go to a movie, you're supposed to suspend your disbelief, but Bekmambetov makes it so difficult and next to impossible to do so.
That, combined with the fact that Angelina Jolie was wasted in this film, makes it impossible for me to recommend. If you want to see a better assassin movie with Jolie, go check out "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (2005), which was basically a remake of Jack Nicholson's "Prizzi's Honor" (1985). Both are far better films.
One Star out of Five
Rated R for bloody violence, some sexuality and pervasive language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 50 mins.