Netflix Instant Theater: Wild Target

Welcome back to Netflix Instant Theater, where we slog through all the random movies, good or bad, so you don’t have to. This week we have Wild Target, a 2009 black comedy/action film from the usually outstanding Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny, Sgt. Bilko, The Whole Nine Yards) starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, and Martin Freeman. The movie only holds a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (but a 56% from the audience!), and it only made $4 million worldwide on an $8 million budget. Who knew people were so turned off by geriatrics and middle-aged women hooking up. Apparently Space Cowboys was enough.

Bill Nighy, the British version of Morgan Freeman, is an aging hitman named Victor Maynard who comes from a long, prestigious line of hitmen. He’s the best of the best, which is amazing considering Nighy suffers from Dupuytren’s contracture, and he can’t extend the ring and pinky finger on each hand (as you can see in the picture above). But being the best contract killer since Jean Reno has its price, as Victor is not the most social person. The only person he sees is his elderly mother, until he’s contracted by a real estate mogul to kill Emily Blunt for swindling him. And when a 60 year old assassin meets an attractive, quirky con artist half his age, cue the sexy music.

This movie felt like it shouldn’t work, written by a screenwriter with credits you’ve never heard of, directed by a man who hasn’t made a movie in a decade (let’s pretend The Fighting Temptations never happened), and with the most convoluted love story since Space Cowboys. It’s like some three-headed monster with comedy, love story, and action tearing apart the helpless viewer for thematic control, pretending to be all three, yet not fitting into any of them. And yet, it does work. It doesn’t go above and beyond with anything, but it doesn’t really fail on any counts either.

The action never really takes itself seriously, but it’s not wacky enough to become hokey. The comedy carries the trademark British dryness/witty banter, which is much appreciated in these dark days of ridiculous visual gags bashed over our heads while Ed Helm screams at us. In fact, the humor covers the bandwidth between subtle and obvious quite nicely. Some things go by quietly and without much of a fuss, and even the more obvious stuff isn’t overplayed. There’s one bit where, after completing a job, Victor recovers his payment from a duffle bag in a locker room. He comments on how much he hates the standard “half now, half later” format, then in the next scene he’s taping two halves of a bill together. Then, we see Blunt’s character performing the same action later on after “stealing” a painting for a real estate mogul. But, with her it’s a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” moment that makes for a quick laugh for the people paying attention.

The actors all make fine turns in it as well. Bill Nighy is easily one of the best actors out there that no one talks about. Rupert Grint essentially just plays stoned Ron Weasley (which is kind of what I imagined Ron would be if the kids in Harry Potter actually behaved like real kids) as a drifter who Victor takes under his wing after he displays a seemingly natural penchant for shooting people, although he himself abhors killing. Martin Freeman is criminally underused, not even showing up until about two-thirds in, but he does a good turn as a carefree sadistic hitman. Emily Blunt’s manic pixie would normally be points against it, but it works because it cuts out two of the more annoying traits: clumsiness and social ineptitude. She’s not adorably zany and ditzy; she’s a kleptomaniacal con artist, which is kind of the logical extreme for people with a care-free, “do whatever I feel like at this moment” attitude. We also get a surprisingly hilarious turn out of Rupert Everett as the scammed real estate mogul who’s after Blunt. But then I shouldn’t be surprised at the gay best friend from My Best Friend’s Wedding, which numerous female acquaintances assured me was funny.

The only real downside to this movie, besides a second act that drags a bit, is the love story. Thankfully, that’s severely downplayed for most of the movie until about the middle of the second act. It’s not a cat and mouse game of “will they/won’t they” that slogs down the story and drowns the viewer in a river of romantic mishaps like a pair of cement shoes in the Hudson. The story doesn’t hinge on the two leads getting together, it’s just something that sort of happens. Unfortunately, that’s coupled with him being twice her age, so the whole thing is just something you have to sort of accept.

So overall, it’s a fun movie you can enjoy with your significant other when one of you wants to watch an action movie and the other wants something romantic. Neither of you will get entirely what you want, but it’ll be enough to hold you both over and have a good laugh while you’re at it. And, ladies, since you might not be so enthralled by the sexy seductions of Bill Nighy, fear not, since you can lust after Emily Blunt’s wardrobe.

FINAL GRADE: Three Billy Macks