But not for the sheer force of will of Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt, “Wild Target” would go entirely unnoticed by anyone. Instead, one watches in disappointment at the prospect of the two of them coming so close to genuinely entertaining you.
The first 15 minutes of “Wild Target” are great. We watch Victor Maynard (Nighy) going about his business as a London hitman, one dedicated to practicing his French lessons, but otherwise all charcoal suits and pure business. Rose (Blunt) is a spirited kleptomaniac and conwoman blithely skipping through life, pure id, running a red light here, stealing a glass of orange juice there. In no time he’s hired to kill her after she bilks a man (a totally wasted Rupert Everett) out of 900,000 pounds.
But in the course of stalking his prey, Maynard becomes totally charmed by Rose, and can’t find it in him to pull the trigger. Soon they’re on the run from the man who hired them, picking up along the way Tony (Rupert Grint), a stoner vagrant who making a living washing cars, who accidentally saves her from yet another hitman.
Nighy is never what’s wrong with a film, and here again, he’s great as a 54-year-old, third-generation assassin who only recently stopped living with his mother and is struggling mightily with his sexuality.
Blunt, who was so good as Anne Hathaway’s secondary foil in “The Devil Wears Prada,” is still waiting for the role that will let her get to the next level, and sadly this isn’t it. She does what she can, playing the ne’er-do-well Rose as sexy and carefree as could be hoped, bu tit’s ultimately to no avail
Where Everett is wasted, Martin Freeman is just a bummer as Dixon, the hitman hired to clean up where Maynard failed. The whole performance is capped teeth, a clenched grin and a tilt of the head. Freeman’s better than that.
But for all the efforts of Nighy and Blunt, “Wild Target” is constantly just off the mark. Director Jonathan Lynn tried doing the screwball crime thing once before, with the “The Whole Nine Yards.” Ironically, the Englishman seems less comfortable trying to capture the right tone with British crime comedy. Too often he tries to let the music set the tone—Wacky! Somber, Romantic—but he can’t quite find the pace here to let the action speak for itself. And Lucinda Coxon’s script, an adaptation of Pierre Salvadori’s 1993 film “Cible émouvante,” doesn’t help things, as there are too many flat jokes and wasted moments.
If you’ve already seen “Wild Target” and have been anxiously awaiting all the goodies you might find on the home version, we’ve got bad news: there’s exactly one extra, and it’s just a brief interview with Emily Blunt talking about how much she loved making the film.
Like so many before it, “Wild Target” isn’t a bed film, it’s just not what it could’ve been. And that makes it even more of a letdown.