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Hit Man and Miss

MOVIE REVIEW
Wild Target (2010)

Wild-target-bill-nighy-emily-blunt-rupert-grint
Nick Wall/Freestyle Releasing

In a just world, Bill Nighy would be accorded the national treasure status he so deeply deserves. While his firebrand “Love Actually” performance, as boozing singer Billy Mack, attracted some notoriety, the British thespian never has become a household name.

That’s unlikely to change with the release of “Wild Target” – Jonathan Lynn’s acute, precisely pitched absurdist satire about a fastidious hit man – but we fervently wish it would. Never less than hilarious – crafted in the classically deadpan British style – the movie’s a grand, quick-witted entertainment, a throwback in the best, most welcome sense.

Mr. Nighy plays the appropriately christened Victor Maynard, a third-generation all-star assassin, who completes his hits with a mechanical, fluid precision that barely musses his polished demeanor. Rehearsing French, having tea with mother (Eileen Atkins) and strolling through the merry London streets — all, in Victor’s world, are appropriately discordant post-killing activities.

His gloriously isolated, pristinely worry-free existence is shattered, though, when circumstances find him swept up in the tidal wave of chaos that defines bad-girl thief/hit target Rose (Emily Blunt) and naïve young bystander Tony (Rupert Grint).

The domesticated trained killer conceit is not a new one, but rarely has it been put on with the straight-faced, thinly disguised delirium applied to it here. The screenplay, by Lucinda Coxon and Pierre Salvadori, offers a rapid-fire succession of clever verbal and visual gags, while Mr. Lynn finds and maintains the balance between broad, briskly paced stylized moments and classic, rapid-fire odd-couple bickering.

The movie, though, belongs to Mr. Nighy. The actors infuses the prim Victor with just the right hint of a fun-loving wild child hidden beneath the rigid surface. His stiff upper lip quivers and curls; his face shakes with voracious anger; and through all the exasperation and stoicism, there’s the palpable sense of a man coming alive for the first time.

It’s the human undercurrent to the picture’s broad, satirical core, the element that makes the comedy stick. The best thing to be said for “Wild Target”: Peter Sellers might have happily made it.

WILD TARGET

Opens on Oct. 29 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by Jonathan Lynn; written by Lucinda Coxon, based on the film “Cible Émouvante” by Pierre Salvadori; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Michael Parker; music by Michael Price; production design by Caroline Greville-Morris; costumes by Sheena Napier; produced by Martin Pope and Michael Rose; released by Freestyle Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Bill Nighy (Victor Maynard), Emily Blunt (Rose), Rupert Grint (Tony), Eileen Atkins (Mother), Martin Freeman (Dixon), Gregor Fisher (Mike), Geoff Bell (Fabian), Rory Kinnear (Gerry) and Rupert Everett (Ferguson).

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