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‘Wanted’

You can’t always get what you want.

Unless, of course, you really, really want what "Wanted’s" selling.

Lots of people will, I’m sure. I’m also sure I’m not one of them.

But don’t let me keep you from reveling in the trash and flash this bullet-riddled bullet train ride provides.

If all you’re looking for is a chance to ogle Angelina Jolie as she puts her pillowy lips, mesmerizing eyes and drop-dead ‘tude through their paces, welcome home.

If you can’t get enough of Morgan Freeman doing yet another variation on his patented wiser-than-God routine, be my guest.

And if you don’t mind seeing James McAvoy demonstrate — after standout turns in movies as different as "Atonement," "The Last King of Scotland" and "Becoming Jane" — that he’s perfectly at home in a mindless, soulless action workout, break out the popcorn.

But forgive me while I hit the brakes and sound a word — make that multiple words — of caution.

"Wanted" is one of those movies that confuses quantity with quality, style with substance, adrenaline with artistry.

Not content to concentrate on mere mayhem, it aims for something more, and winds up achieving less, trying to pass off a heaping helping of the old ultra-violence as something visionary and profound.

Reflecting the aesthetic sensibility (or lack thereof) of director Timur Bekmambetov — who brought you the Russian vampire hits "Nightwatch" and "Daywatch" — "Wanted" exists in a frenzied state of overdrive (and overkill) as it plunges its protagonist (and, by extension, the audience) into a nerve-jangling world of life-or-death destiny.

Not that our mild-mannered hero, Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) isn’t happy to escape his previously miserable existence. He just isn’t expecting to depart in a hailstorm of bullets.

A faceless, cubicle-trapped drone, McAvoy’s a whipping boy for his browbeating boss (Lorna Scott) and his duplicitous girlfriend (Kristen Hager). No wonder he gulps mass quantities of prescription pills to short-circuit his frequent anxiety attacks.

But those are no ordinary anxiety attacks.

They’re evidence that Wesley has very special blood pumping in his veins — the adrenaline-charged blood of a natural-born killer.

Unbeknownst to him, he’s the son of a star assassin for The Fraternity, a clandestine, centuries-old society dedicated to killing the few so the many will benefit, thereby maintaining "the balance of the world."

And when said star assassin meets an unexpected and grisly end, one of his colleagues — none other than the foxy Fox (Jolie) — springs Wesley from his dead-end life and offers him a new one: as a member of the ultra-secret Fraternity.

That is, if Wesley can survive the punishing training regimen Fox and her friends — including Fraternity headmaster Sloan (Freeman) — have in store.

The life-or-death lessons range from repeated beatings (which you must receive if you ever hope to give) to specialized weapons training that includes learning how to fire a bullet so it bends like a David Beckham soccer kick before hitting paydirt. And, inevitably, splattering blood and brain matter everywhere. In the immortal words of the Beach Boys: fun, fun, fun!

Relentless in his use of show-offy visual tricks, Bekmambetov clearly shares Orson Welles’ view that moviemaking is "the biggest electric train set a boy ever had!" A train set Bekmambetov can’t resist playing with at top speed — until it overheats and blows up in his face.

A pity "Wanted" hasn’t the sense, and substance, to shore up its hyperkinetic style. But there’s so little internal logic that it sinks under the weight of its ponderous, pretentious notion that the Fraternity’s members are weavers of destiny.

Based on Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ six-part graphic novel, "Wanted’s" screenplay — by the "2 Fast 2 Furious" team of Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, plus "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’s" Chris Morgan — has zero internal logic, making its twists and turns utterly arbitrary and frequently preposterous.

Of course, Bekmambetov’s run-and-gun style might be enough to distract you from "Wanted’s" extreme lack of character development.

Or its extreme misogyny as it serves up exactly three female stereotypes: the fat disgusting bitch, the lyin’-‘n’-cheatin’ bitch and the smokin’ hot, cold-hearted bitch.

Of course, we’re not supposed to be thinking as "Wanted" zooms through its sledgehammer action, punctuated by in-your-face twists, impossibly over-the-top stunts and a strangely otherworldly setting. (The latter makes perfect sense, considering that "Wanted" is set in Chicago — but was filmed in Prague.)

Surprisingly, the human factor, such as it is, turns out to be "Wanted’s" sole asset, with the soothingly authoritative Freeman in cruise-control mode and Jolie basking in her own killer charisma, daring Wesley — and, by extension, the audience — to defy her irresistible allure.

But Wesley’s helpless — just as the crafty, versatile McAvoy is helpless in the face of the movie’s amped-up, dumbed-down approach.

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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