by Kristen Sales
Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) comes from a family of assassins with a long legacy of deadeye pride. His mother (Eileen Atkins), who he has recently moved into a retirement home after living with her all his life, is none too pleased Victor has heretofore failed to produce an heir to continue the family trade. Lonely, exacting, socially awkward and approaching his fifty-fifth birthday, Victor is a failure. (The fact that he’s the most ruthlessly efficient and expensive assassin in London does not seem to impress dear, old ma.) But when Victor is hired to kill Rose (Emily Blunt), a beautiful thief on the wrong side of an elegant criminal (Rupert Everett), it seems his legacy problems might be solved. When Victor refuses to assassinate Rose, his employer orders his henchmen to kill both of them. In the midst of this complicated setup, Rose and Victor pick up a teenaged drifter named Tony (Rupert Grint) who was caught in the hit man crossfire. And if you think Rose and Tony become Victor’s surrogate family, you’re absolutely right.
The screenplay, by Lucinda Coxon and adapted from the French comedy Cible émouvante, is something of a mess. Although full of witty one-liners, Wild Target‘s structure stops and starts in fits. There are not one, but two chase scenes in the first hour and the film comes to a screeching holt once Victor, Rose and Tony hole up in Victor’s country estate. At this point, the film cuts between the trio playing house and the new hit man hired to kill them (Martin Freeman); even for a comedy, there’s scarcely any sense of danger in their situation. The second half of the film switches entirely to scenes of familial bonding. Victor leans to loosen up and become a mentor to the dim-witted Tony. Victor and Rose’s romance is never really in doubt, despite the hint of a gay subplot that was so quickly discarded I wondered if it wasn’t scrapped in editing When the bad guys finally do show up, the resultant “kill her or I kill him” ultimatum is predictably tired. A happy ending is never in doubt and we’re treated to one that opens with the title “Three years later.” I’m sure you can guess the epilogue.
Despite the relative weakness of the screenplay, Wild Target is a cheerfully humorous picture that revels in its gangster movie cliches. Most of my enjoyment stemmed from the winning performances. Nighy, Blunt and Grint are all talented comedic actors with loads of charm; it’s obvious they had a ball making the film and their joy helps smooth the overwrought plot. Nighy’s facial ticks and distinctive speech patterns are admirably suppressed for the most part. His Victor Maynard, clad in impeccably well-tailored suits and sleek weaponry, reminded me at times of Peter Sellers’ Inspector Closeau, a man trying to retain his dignity in the face of ineptness and calamity of all stripe. The character’s best moments come before he meets Rose and Tony, when we see him following his daily routine, which besides killing people, means visiting his mother, the wheel-chair bound tyrant, drinking lonely cups of tea and conjugating French verbs. Emily Blunt’s thief Rose is Victor’s opposite, a free spirit with no compunction about using her sexual influence over men to get whatever she wants. Blunt projects a grace and lightness in the role as is evident in the scene where she waltzes through a street fair, snatching a woman’s scarf off her neck and a florist’s bouquet in one fluid gesture. Rupert Grint lends his signature good-natured screen presence to Tony, a kid who likes to smoke while taking long baths, but doesn’t do very much else. Affable, eager to please and more than a little dumb, Tony provides many funny moments (mostly when bickering with Rose, exasperating father figure Victor), but the role is not much of a stretch from Grint’s work as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise.
Ultimately, Wild Target is a film with a lot of plot and very little incident kept afloat by the fine comic chemistry of its three leads. The comedy is not aggressively stupid, which is saying something in today’s film climate, and I did laugh quite a bit. I have a particular weakness for madcap British comedies but with leads as likable as these, it’s hard to get too stuck on an uneven screenplay.
Screening before the feature was a short film, Banana Bread, written and directed by Barton Landsman. Matt Meyerson (John Livingston) is a young man with an overbearing Jewish mother (Phyllis, played by Deena Freeman). At breakfast one morning, Matt fields a barrage of interrogating questions and a reminder to make a doctor’s appointment for a cancer screening. Matt takes this all in stride, asking dryly, “Mom, can we talk about something besides my colon?” Matt leaves breakfast with a loaf of his mother’s infamous banana bread, sans chocolate chips (“You don’t need all that sugar”) and drives off to work. She calls him on his cell to badger Matt while he performs his “freelance” work–as a hit man. The short cuts back and forth between Phyllis at home and Matt in an anonymous warehouse, wasting henchman after henchman with lethal efficiency. Banana Bread is clever, fast-paced, and, at a mere nine minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. Writer/director Landsman strikes a nice balance in a short that is essentially a one-note joke, handling the rhythms of this mother/son relationship as well as he does the action scenes.
Wild Target opens in limited release on October 29th. The Anaheim International Film Festival runs through Sunday, October 17. For more information, visit www.anaheimfilm.org.
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Screenwriter: Lucinda Coxon
Bill Nighy (Victor Maynard)
Emily Blunt (Rose)
Rupert Grint (Tony)
Rupert Everett (Ferguson)
Country of Origin: UK/France (2010)