WANTED (2008) is to urban dwelling white guys what MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION is to young black men, and it's a fascinating "gotcha" dichotomy: the African American ideal is to be a church-going family man; white guy's ideal is to be a sociopathic sniper. Not that you can't be both, of course, like in THE STEPFATHER. Perhaps you don't get Angelina Jolie for arm candy if you go that route, but then again, maybe you actually get to have sex with someone.
As the lead "Young King Arthur"-type. WANTED's James McAvoy is pretty soft. Keanu Reeves had it much better in the exact same role (McAvoy even gets a few winks at the audience when he eschews Reeves' Matrix glasses) but McAvoy's a non-Neo Neo; he may get a drab cubicle and the black 'second' father and the hot 'mentor' chick in leather with the slow mo guns thing, but he's an accountant, not a programmer, and he's too much of a schmuck to even be a good frat boy, let alone a good alterna-rocker bassist. Another problem: he takes forever to wise up. He's still shouting "Are you guys really assassins?!?" over the sound of whirring Kinko's copiers and the movie's half over already. In V FOR VENDETTA, Natalie Portman passed the time in prison reading lesbian love letters. MacAvoy just flails and goes "dude!" like the guy on the acid trip whose actually serious about writing all this shit down because it's so brilliant or seems genuinely afraid when everyone jokes they should kill him cuz he's so annoying. At least he learns to take a lot of punches. That was some comfort.
But it all ultimately matters little as McAvoy ends the film babeless and still unbroken, lecturing the audience for their sloth after tastefully dispatching his boss from a Rear Window style sniper scope rifle right from his living room. Take a note, you high school nerds so trampled underfoot: long range firearms make vengeance sweeter!
I don't care about copycats so much as the ever-increasing amount of time it takes in these films to get our average guy to actually wise up and shake off his civilized Clark Kentish stupor. In the old westerns, you'd just throw a guy a gun and he'd be ready. Stanley Kramer came along and made that guy a coward, and yea, we believed Stanley Kramer, and yea, we became soft and cowardly and "we d-d-d-don't want n-no trouble" instead of "you name it, I'll throw rocks at it, sheriff." As a result, each new Neo takes progressively longer to to shucker loose from the Kramer-liberal finger trap.
And what about the slasher movies, the horror movies with the girl cowering in fear and dropping the knife right by the body, etc., screaming and yelling for the sheriff even when the sheriff is a maniac and she knows this? How long before she's suffered enough and there's that "snap" signifying her nervous system flip to adrenalin-spiked savagery? Wes Craven seemed to think that this "snap/flip" was a bad thing, showing how we're all killers inside as if it's something to be ashamed of (as in the final chilling freeze frame of the original HILLS HAVE EYES) even while rubbing our noses in it. Damn you, Wes Craven! We know we got it, there's no need to be made ashamed of it! A Kramer at the Oscars is bad enough, now we have to one at the drive-in, too? We need to celebrate that savagery when it shuckers free from that finger trap and pokes the sweet spots! What's the difference between a harried-by-bikers suburban dad finding his inner DEATH WISH drive vs. a soldier winning an award on the field of battle?
Liberals bemoan it, but the dehumanizing tactics of R. Lee Emery in FULL METAL JACKET are there to help the boys survive on the field, for God's sakes. He's trying to snap them out of their unconscious civilized stupor, the one where they're oblivious to everything else except girls, TV, and food and danger's just look both ways and don't drive drunk thing, not a step on a mine or get shot in the neck by a sniper kind of thing. Emery wants them to learn to love the smell of mud as if they're lives depended on it, and they do, so that each step is above all aware, that the savagery doesn't need a whole six months of basic or biker siege on your camper to rip forth from that suburban schmuck veneer!
In WANTED, our dumb hero learns to kill but he never really learns to love... killing. He does learn to boast about what a bid widdle boy he is as he issues Columbine-positive declarations to the fourth wall, but in my mind he'll never be more than a little pisher with good reflexes.
It's all interesting in thinking about that shift though, a shift that no one even really had the guts to talk about before Sam Fuller or Vietnam. The Killer Inside Me, that Jim Thompson novel is becoming a movie. And you know whose starring in it? Corey Haim! I mean Casey Affleck. Nothing against little boy Casey, per se, but is there be a better emblem of how fucked up our country is? Back in 1977, would we have tolerated Ron Howard as Darth Vader? Would we have believed Ricky Nelson as Captain Quint in JAWS? To reverse the line from SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, pick up the whip and maybe we'll respect what you're saying!