Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy in Wanted (dir. Timur Bekmambetov, 2008).

Angelina Jolie's body is now its own product placement, so that the more naked she becomes, the more she recedes behind the abstracted symbols of her always once-removed identity. Isn't one of the tattoos actually a bar code? Maybe not, but all the same.

Perfect, then, for this sleek, brutish cyborg of a movie, in which each glistening image, each bit of aggressive voiceover, each digitized syntactical bitchslap is calibrated so as to afflict the viewer in some domineering, vaguely contemptuous way. The special effects have more personality than the human characters, though, to be fair, they have quite a lot of it (the effects, not the characters). How are we supposed to feel about seeing someone get his face mashed to pulp as he's pushed backward across the room in slow motion by the barrel of the gun doing the mashing? Elated, I think. And transfixed by the complex mechanics of the maneuver, both as a concept and a CGI rendering. And (especially) exonerated of any bothersome responsibility toward any residual respect for life we might have been harboring.

The movie ends with the line "What the fuck have you done lately?" (oh, quit your whining, that doesn't give anything away, and even if it does, live with it). One implication here is that I, like the rest of the audience, am a passive consumer of mass entertainment, safely cushioned in my cocoon of vicarious mindlessness. Fair enough. I even pay for the privilege of having this pointed out to me in the course of said entertainment. But the other implication is that the character speaking has ascended to a higher level of animal vitality and existential immediacy by mastering the art of assassinating persons whose names are randomly assigned by a big weird sewing machine. Sure, pal. By those standards, you win.