On the lam and under the gun
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, November 12, 2010
It's never a good idea to cast Bill Nighy as a buttoned-down hit man. Not because of the hit man part - that's pure genius - but the buttoned-down bit. The British actor is at his best when playing people who are at least a little bit raffish and mad. Think of Quentin in "Pirate Radio," Davy Jones in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, Billy Mack in "Love Actually," Ray Simms in "Still Crazy."
So although it's always a pleasure to see Nighy again, his performance as ultra-professional assassin Victor Maynard in the largely breezeless black comedy "Wild Target" is a letdown. The film itself boasts a fine supporting cast - Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Eileen Atkins and Rupert Everett - but as the glue holding the whole thing together, Nighy would be far better off were he allowed to become a little more . . . unglued.
As it is, Nighy's Victor is a stuffy old bore. At 54, he's an expensive killer with a taste for fine wine and French lessons. As a measure of just how good - and how disengaged - he has become from his work, he practices language drills while dispatching his victims. It's a job for him, not a joy.
But when Victor's latest victim, Rose (Blunt, playing a thief who has ticked off Everett's smarmy mobster), proves a little harder to kill than he's used to, Victor somewhat implausibly takes her under his wing, along with a young man named Tony (Grint) who has stumbled upon Victor with the gun in his hand. Victor explains it away by saying he's a private detective. Why he doesn't just shoot them both is never adequately explained.
So he's gone soft. Whatever.
When the mobster hires a second assassin (Martin Freeman) to finish Victor's job, and kill Victor, the three fugitives - Victor, Rose and Tony, collectively the film's titular "wild" target - go on the lam. The rest of the movie, predictably enough, deals with their interpersonal dynamics.
Needless to say, Victor and the free-spirited Rose, who initially claim to hate each other, start to exhibit signs of mutual attraction, though there is also a rather strange element of flickering homoeroticism between Victor and Tony. It's not the gay subtext that's strange. At this point, we just want Victor to be happy. (Would it kill him to smile?) But a 54-year-old man manifesting the hots for a woman half his age, or for a young man who's even closer to jailbait? That's a tiny bit creepy, and not in a madcap way.
Atkins, who plays Victor's domineering and slightly unhinged mother, is the best thing about "Wild Target." She's the only loose canon on this ship, the only unknown variable in the equation. Whenever she's on screen, you don't know what's going to happen, if only for a minute.
Contains comic violence and gunplay, sensuality and occasional obscenity.