I had to decide this week whether I'd watch a badly reviewed comedy thriller with Bill Nighy or a well reviewed comedy with Russell Brand. Applying the weirdly masochistic logic that I ought never to use, I reasoned that Wild Target wouldn't last long at the cinema and that Get Him to the Greek would, and that I never watch comedy thrillers and perhaps I ought to see what I was missing. As a chain of reasoning, it was a classic example of how you can confuse logic with thinking clearly. Wild Target wasn't going to last long at the cinema because it wasn't particularly good, and I don't watch comedy thrillers as a rule because they're generally unsatisfying in both jobs.
Wild Target is apparently a remake of something French, which is something I didn't know when I was making my mind up. I'm wary of making sweeping generalisations unless they're so hilariously wrong that I can claim I thought I was being funny, but I don't think I'm going to get a lot of argument against the proposition that remakes in English are inferior to the original (this may not be true in the other direction; remaking the Good the Bad and the Ugly in Korean led to one of the most ridiculously enjoyable foreign language movies I've ever seen). In other words, if I'd known there was a version of this with Gerard Depardieu in it, I wouldn't have bothered with the remake. If Depardieu had managed to bugger it up in French, there was no chance that anyone was going to make a better job of it in English, and if Depardieu hadn't buggered it up in French, there was no point in watching any other version.
There are a lot of advantages to never having read or watched anything to do with Harry Potter, and to the ones I already knew about (like not worrying about getting several days of my life back for something more productive, and being able to shut down certain kinds of useless conversation instantly instead of getting drawn in) I can add the fact that I can watch Rupert Grint not doing a particularly good job without being distracted by my memories of him playing Ron Weasley or whatever it is that he does in Harry Potter land. Rupert Grint seems to have prepared for his role in Wild Target by watching a compilation of all Simon Pegg's silent reaction shots. It doesn't appear to have struck him that Pegg can only get away with the silent reaction shots because the rest of the time he's talking a disconnected kind of sense and so something which makes him shut up is noteworthy for that reason alone. I gather this is the role that Depardieu had in the French original and it's straining the definition of the word understatement to say Depardieu has nothing to worry about.
Bill Nighy, the reason I even bothered, is one of my favourite middle aged actors, a man who can salvage almost any scene he's in. Since he's very often the best thing in an otherwise terrible movie, he spends a lot of his career somehow projecting the sense of a reasonably intelligent and decent type who's making the best of a bad job. What I hadn't realised up until now is that this only works when you're not the top billed performer in the movie. Bill's good, but he can't drag the whole movie up to his level without some help.
And the help's gone home early in Wild Target. There's a reasonably satisfying, if somewhat contrived, ending, and it starts promisingly. Sadly, that leaves a big block in the middle which doesn't work. Blame the writers, and to some extent blame the actors for not getting the chemistry to gel in the mid game. I'm inclined to toss some blame at Jonathan Lynn, the director, who ought to know by now that he can't do feelings and thus not bother trying.
The story is simple enough; hit man is hired to whack girl who has swindled gang boss, falls for her instead, and hilarity ensues. As the girl, Emily Blunt is convincing as a heartless thieving manipulator, but not all that convincing as a romantic lead. I just googled the movie from curiousity and saw that at one point Helena Bonham Carter was attached to the role - now that would have brought the horsepower the role needed. The whole point about the character is that she's absolutely amoral and yet somehow beguiling. Carter could carry that off; too much of the time Blunt just seems petulant. Which is a believable way to do the part, but it makes the middle of the movie too heavy and it's too hard to buy into Bill Nighy's feelings for his target.
As you'd expect from a guy who cut his teeth writing Yes Minister, Lynn does best in the early scenes, all brittle repartee and heartless pursuit of shakey objectives, and flies into the mountain side when we get to the middle and the three principals are hiding out in the countryside getting to know each other. It's a jolting change of tone from the first act, which establishes Nighy as a formidable and remote professional who isn't even sure why he's killing people any more and Blunt as a heedless scoundrel who sees the whole world as something cooked up for her to plunder. Blunt's introduced riding a bike across London obliviously causing accidents all along the way and wilfully riding past no cycling signs until she gets to the British Museum (or something of that ilk), where she distracts the guards with fireworks so that she can ride into the galleries and through them. It's actually a very funny and well executed intro, but it doesn't have any particular point to it; she's just going in to the museum to meet a forger, and if anything you'd think she'd be trying to do it a little less flamboyantly.
But as long as the movie has this blackly heartless tone, it works quite well. You can play assassins for laughs as long as you maintain a tone in which anything goes. It's all going to go horribly wrong if you let reality intrude. and once the movie leaves London, all bets are off.
Anyhow, now I know why I don't usually watch that kind of movie. Before I just knew that I didn't watch them, but it had been so long since I'd seen one that I'd forgotten what the problem was.