There’s always something going on inside the head of a Bill Nighy character, even if you’re rarely sure what it is. The greatest joy in Wild Target, the latest dark comedy about an aging hitman, might be watching synapses misfire behind the eyes of Nighy’s Victor Maynard as he tries to understand why he’s teaming up with Rose, Emily Blunt’s batty con artist, instead of killing her like he’s been paid to. Although we’re often one step ahead of Nighy — and the film itself — it’s fun to watch him pretend he’s keeping up.
Directed by comedy caper vet Jonathan Lynn (Clue, Nuns On The Run, The Whole Nine Yards), Wild Target is initially as efficient, assured, and obviously insane as Nighy’s assassin, leaving dead parrots, spray-painted cats, and cranky thugs in its wake as the duo (joined by a hapless Rupert Grint) tries to elude the crimelord Rose snookered (Rupert Everett, marvelously frustrated). While any romantic interest meant to bring “color” to the hero’s life risks being insufferable, Blunt’s klepto isn’t in love with herself, suggesting a sadness beneath her self-destructive spontaneity. With Nighy deftly playing both Kevin Kline and John Cleese to her Jamie Lee Curtis, you might not even realize how little we learn about her during their conversations.
Unfortunately, the film wanders once the trio leaves London to hole up in Victor’s family cottage, finding time for slack training sequences and birthday montages while we wait for his grinning, sadistic rival (Martin Freeman) to catch up with them. The static, though amusing, climax doesn’t actually resolve anything, leaving so many strands of the plot open that you may find yourself waiting through the credits for them to acknowledge it. For all of Nighy’s excitement with (and in one inspired scene, sexual confusion over) having an apprentice, Grint consistently seems out of his league, failing to match anything about Nighy except his haircut. But whenever the elder actor is front and center, Wild Target’s failures are as forgivable as his character’s.