Summer rush

In ‘Wanted,’ McAvoy & Jolie deliver an offbeat mix of violence & adrenaline

There's a growing inventory of movies about mousy guys who get major mojo makeovers when they discover hidden gifts.

Titles include "Jumper," about a guy who can teleport around the globe, and "21," about a math whiz who realizes his MIT brain can beat the house in Vegas.

To date, most of these movies have displayed the complexity of a beer commercial, and followed a kind of anti-Spider-Man theme - with great power comes money, cars, girls.

They seem to be aimed (surprise) at teen males who love Kate Bosworth but aren't so crazy about dad - there's usually some angry, resentful older male authority figure on hand to administer a beating or a lecture.

The time seems ripe for a smarter, slicker version of this set-up, and "Wanted" could be the right movie at the right time.

The movie is likely to be hyped for its Matrix-y, bullet-bending style (courtesy of "Nightwatch" director Timur Bekmambetov), but it stands out for the way it turns the usual teen male fantasy on its ear.

The misdirection starts with the casting of James McAvoy ("Atonement," "The Last King of Scotland"), a guy without much of a commercial track record. Good things happen, though, when he's on screen. People who play opposite him keep getting nominated for Oscars - Forest Whitaker, Saoirse Ronan - cementing McAvoy's reputation as a subtle, generous actor who makes other people look good.

McAvoy's natural deference is right for his role here as Wesley, a cubicle serf browbeaten by his fat boss at work, henpecked by his faithless wife at home.

He's prone to panic attacks, but learns one day that these "attacks" are actually his body's special ability to summon concentrated amounts of adrenaline that enable him to perform at a superhuman level, and also to modify the laws of physics. Properly trained, he can bend the trajectory of a bullet.

Who better to deliver this happy news than Angelina Jolie? Wesley's in the pharmacy getting his anxiety prescription filled when bullets start flying (Wesley's powers make him a target) and Jolie appears, adorned with tattoos, and firing automatic weapons with both hands.

She saves Wesley's life and changes it - he's recruited into a centuries-old fraternity of assassins that's supervised by Morgan Freeman and takes its orders from, well, fate or destiny, which issues instructions through a magical loom. The weave is a code, embedded with the names of targets who need to be killed to maintain the yin and yang, or whatever.

As you can surmise, "Wanted" is supremely silly (and also ungodly violent). But it avoids the cardinal summer movie sin of obviousness. "Wanted" has its own ample supply of adrenaline and uses it to curve the trajectory of a storyline that should have Wesley enjoying the perks of a newly minted alpha male.

The movie also plays darkly with a subplot about Wesley's father, a legendary assassin who passed down the freaky DNA.

Fans of the Russian director's "Nightwatch" series will recognize the curiously sour nature of the father-son storyline. Coupled with the blood and body count, it makes for a strangely bleak summer movie, but a welcome, offbeat "B" for the strong of stomach. *

Produced by Marc Platt, Jim Lemley, Jason Netter, Iain Smith, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, written by Michael Brandt, Derek Haas, music by Danny Elfman, distributed by Universal Pictures.