Synopsis: Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) is a middle-aged, solitary assassin whose professional routine is interrupted when he spares the life of one of his intended victims, Rose (Emily Blunt). He spares her life, unexpectedly acquiring in the process a young apprentice, Tony (Rupert Grint). Believing Victor to be a private detective, his two new companions tag along, while he attempts to thwart the murderous attentions of his unhappy client.
British stars flail away in unfunny farce.
Rarely in a British comedy have so many richly talented actors laboured so long in search of a coherent plot, plausible characters and even a modicum of humour.
So it’s sad to see Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint, Eileen Atkins and Rupert Everett miss so many targets in Wild Target, a very loose remake of Pierre Salvadori’s 1993 French flick Cible émouvante.
In its intent more an Ealing comedy than an Anglicised French farce, the sloppily executed film lacks charm, wit and intelligence: it’s a mindless excursion into an unreal world peopled with sadistic killers, gormless goons, dimwits and cretins.
Nighy plays Victor Maynard, a professional assassin who’s carrying on the family business inherited from his late father and his mother (Ms Atkins), who’s wheelchair-bound and lives in a retirement home.
Victor lives alone and his ma worries that he’s gay, which he denies. In the promising opening sequence, he enters a building reciting French verbs (he’s learning the language), seconds later the body of his victim hits the footpath, and he leaves, still uttering French verbs.
Alas it’s all downhill from there as Victor is hired to bump off art thief Rose (Ms Blunt) after she sells a fake Rembrandt to a crooked businessman named Ferguson (an arch Everett). Victor has Rose in his sights but for reasons that are never explained, he spares her. The next day he intends to complete the assignment in a car park but finds that one of Ferguson’s henchmen is about to kill her. Victor shoots the fellow and flees with Rose and pot-smoking car cleaner Tony (a scruffy Grint), who’d stumbled into the scene, in her red Mini. They spend the night in a posh hotel, where, due to an amazing co-incidence, Ferguson is in residence just down the corridor.
The next day, after the obligatory chase scene through London, they repair to Victor’s home in the country where he and Rose spend more time sniping or shouting at each other, until a highly unconvincing romance develops between the 55-year-old Victor and the brassy Rose.
Very little of this is funny, clever, or even half-way interesting. In one jarring scene, Victor tells Tony he makes him feel sexually confused. Tony looks perplexed, as well he might. Several innocent people are killed along the way, giving the film a nasty, amoral tone which is totally at odds with its madcap pretentions.
Nighy’s trademark droll, deadpan delivery, quizzical looks and double-takes serve little purpose in a nonsensical plot riddled with leaden dialogue. Blunt is entirely unsuited to this kind of witless caper. As for Grint’s attempt to establish a career outside of the Harry Potter franchise, he needs to make smarter choices. Martin Freeman, curiously fitted with a new set of dentures, makes a late and thankless appearance as another hit man.
Director Jonathan Lynn directs without style or flair in his first effort at the helm since 2003’s The Fighting Temptations in a chequered career which includes My Cousin Vinny, The Whole Nine Yards and Nuns on the Run. It’s hard to believe the same man created and wrote (with Antony Jay) every episode of Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister.
Lucinda Coxon is the writer who adapted Salvadori’s screenplay. One can only surmise that the comic essence of the original was lost in translation.
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