Didn’t get enough of Rupert Grint and Bill Nighy in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Or just need some relief from the unrelenting grimness of Part 1? Check them out – teamed up with Emily Blunt – in the cheeky Wild Target, which also features the hugely appealing Martin Freeman (you’ll see him soon as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit) and the always charming Rupert Everett. If you need a dose of goofy British-flavored comedy – offhand, self-deprecating, and coming in equal doses of light and black – don’t miss this.
Based on the 1993 French flick Cible émouvante, though it’s so thoroughly English in spirit and humor that you’d be hard-pressed to guess that, this is the tale of Victor Maynard (Nighy), a London hitman of elegant demeanor, professional scruples, and excellent reputation who finds he cannot bring himself to take out the beautiful thief, Rose (Blunt), he’s been hired to kill (she double-crossed the wrong person to the tune of way too much dough). In the uncharacteristic moments of hesitation when he should be shooting her, a couple of coincidences lead him to become both her protector and mentor to Tony (Grint), a young man at odds with himself who believes Victor is a private investigator and signs up as Victor’s “apprentice.” Hijinks ensue as the three of them go into hiding from Victor’s employer and the competing hitman subsequently hired to finish the job Victor was supposed to do.
Director Jonathan Lynn made the similarly themed assassin comedy The Whole Nine Yards for Hollywood a decade ago, and it was an embarrassingly unfunny disaster. Back on his home turf – Lynn is best known as co-creator and co-writer of the spot-on BBC TV comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister – he gets hit right.
Humor and pathos sit side by side here so that you can’t believe you’re actually finding something so brutally cold actually sweet and funny. Victor’s mother – played by Eileen Atkins in a wicked one-scene cameo – is proud of her son’s success as a killer but laments that he, single and childless, may not have anyone to pass the family work on to. It makes the unlikely fact that Victor finds himself suddenly knocking around with a substitute wife and son surprisingly touching.
Any icky sentimentality, however, is instantly undercut by the absurdity of the situation. Movies hardly ever make me laugh out loud, but this one did, more than once, with its unpredictable twists – the scam Rose is engaged in as the film opens is one of the wittiest, slyest crimes I’ve ever seen a film propose – and unexpected punchlines growing out of the deliciously twisted characters. This trio of vivacious actors – Nighy, Blunt, and Grint – always seem to pop off the screen no matter what movies they’re gallivanting through, but here, together, they have a lively synergy, playing off one another to deeply hilarious, and sometimes weirdly poignant, affect. Wild Target would be worth seeing for them alone, even if the rest of it weren’t so clever.