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Somewhere in Hollywood, there stands a great loom, weaving together threads of plot. Sometimes the thread comes from a novel, sometimes from comic books and sometimes from other sources I'm too lazy to think about. If the thread is unbroken, you get a good movie. If the thread is Wanted, you don't even have to bother unraveling the cloth. That will take care of itself.

Adapted by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, Wanted throws out most of its comic book roots, keeping the basic frame of loser Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy) discovering that his unknown father had amazing skills with a gun, and that he has inherited them. It's up to Wesley to go through a crash course in his ballistic abilities in order to avenge his father's death.

Where Wanted starts flailing about is in looking for some sort of moral identification. In Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' original comic book, the world has been taken over by super-villains, with Wesley's father having been one of the most powerful. Sure, the book had a strongly amoral edge, but at least it was true to it.

Rather than that, Brandt, Haas and Director Timur Bekmambetov place Wesley among a League of Assassins, started by a medieval Guild of Weavers, calling itself by the arcane name of …The Fraternity. It seems these weavers realized that Fate communicated through the threads of their finest cloth, and offered up the names of people whose deaths must occur in order to maintain stability in the world. You may, in fact, remember when young Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were assassinated before they could cause any trouble.

Led by the authoritative yet reassuring Sloane (Morgan Freeman), the Fraternity needs Wesley to go after their rogue member, Cross (Thomas Kretschmann), the man who killed his father in a spectacular opening sequence. Wesley's training falls into the supple yet deadly hands of Fox (Angelina Jolie), who, in true Jolie action star mode, sounds like she's gently orgasming whenever she gets involved with violence.

The bizarre thing here is that the screenwriters kept most of the super-villain names and even left the rat-obsessed "Exterminator" largely untouched. Here, though, they're without context, and it won't be long before you also start wondering why very few police seem to ever show up in a city clearly riddled with random acts of violence and multiple executions. Everybody has been reduced to shadows of the four-color characters they once were, now trapped in a world that hasn't just grown dark but also curiously muted.

Bekmambetov could easily have handled a more vibrant and direct adaptation. As bereft of sense as the script is, the visuals in this movie are exciting and often astounding. They're so powerful, it's obvious that the script often got tinkered just to provide an excuse for the director's vision.

Bullets curve because man, that just looks cool. The screenwriters scramble to provide a punchline justification for it, but even that breaks the rules they already set up. To match that awesome shot of Wesley's father jumping through a glass window, the Fraternity has a healing candle wax bath - except later, they really need people to be able to have conversations from it, so it becomes liquid without explanation.

The movie does capture the patheticity of Wesley's life, even if the charismatic McAvoy can't quite capture a Chicago accent. But the screenwriters substitute a change of situation to make up for any logical character arc. Wesley gets handed new knowledge, with no struggle to go from nebbish to overconfident jerk.

Yet there's frustration in how close this comes to being entertaining. The visuals prove there's a good film in Bekmambetov if he can learn to tell a coherent story, and learn to handle actors. He's got some really good ones here. Besides McAvoy, rapper Common shows that he's got a pretty good screen presence, when everyone else isn't being blown away by Freeman. The man might flirt with hackdom, but he never gives a bad performance. At times, it's almost subtle - and in this movie, that's no mean feat.

For subtlety is not a word you can use with Wanted. Then again, what it proved to me is it's also one I can't use with comic book writer Millar's work, either. Perhaps the high concept pulled the wool over a lot of readers' eyes, and a few studio executives. Here's hoping it doesn't blind audiences.

Derek McCaw

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