Universal was always going to make "Wanted," but the R-rated assassin drama originally was penciled in for a March release. Once the studio began assembling the film's Super Bowl commercial, though, Universal had a change of heart: Maybe this movie was good enough to compete against "Hancock," "The Dark Knight" and all of the season's biggest kahunas.
At the movie's start, he's a miserable, windbreaker-wearing bean counter given to what he thinks are panic attacks. But minutes after he encounters the very accomplished gunslinger Fox (Angelina Jolie) in a furious grocery store shootout and astonishing car chase, Wesley learns there might be more to his future life than generally accepted accounting principles.
As he's promptly informed by the imperious Sloan (Morgan Freeman), Wesley is, in fact, a born assassin, as was his recently murdered father. He has the untapped skills to maintain order. "It's your long-awaited destiny to join us," Sloan tells Wesley. Who could possibly say no to that?
Having distinguished himself with the low-budget but nevertheless eye-popping visual tricks in his hit Russian-language supernatural thrillers "Night Watch" and "Day Watch," Bekmambetov finds himself working on a much bigger playing field with "Wanted," adapted from the graphic novels by Mark Millar and J.G. Jones. "But if on those movies I had to make $5 million look like $50 million, here I am trying to make $100 million look like $300 million."
One of "Wanted's" distinctive cinematic looks is what's called "assassin mode." Just as great athletes such as Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan seem to see more than everyone else, assassin mode allows shooters with the right DNA to focus narrowly on the tiniest but most important things -- a speeding bullet, for instance -- while the rest of the world collapses away.
In his first test of this inherited habit, Wesley is asked to shoot the wings off houseflies. "I can't even see them," he protests. "That's impossible." Not in this movie.
The film's killers also are able to bend bullets around stationary objects, the way a PGA golfer might curve a ball around a tree. "They can move their hands so fast that the movement of the gun is faster than the speed of the bullet," Bekmambetov says in explaining the ballistics.
Because of its look, a plot about hidden-in-plain-sight secrets and a reluctant nobody who becomes a hero, "Wanted" will remind more than a few moviegoers of "The Matrix." Bekmambetov doesn't deny the influence but says the film also references "300" and "Blade Runner."
"Those are all part of our film language," he says. "But Neo in 'The Matrix' wasn't so smart as to be self-ironic. Wesley is. He's one of us."