The first woebegone comedy about a professional assassin in at least two weeks, Wild Target is occasion for regret mostly because the poised, droll Bill Nighy is all dressed up with no place to go. Cast as Victor Maynard, a fussy second-generation killer-for-hire (supportive Mum, played by a game Eileen Atkins, presents him with a scrapbook chronicling his hits for his 55th birthday), Nighy struts through his early scenes with the bourgeois calm of an undertaker, reciting French and Italian verbs from instructional tapes between close-range gundowns and defenestrations, his dreadful mustache clipped as rigorously as his favorite bonsai plant. Charged with whacking a scatterbrained young art forger (Emily Blunt), Victor turns soft in the heart and goes on the run with the girl and a doltish garage attendant (Rupert Grint) he envisions either as a surrogate son or the object of his late-life queer awakening.
This gay tease of a subplot is typical of Lucinda Coxon’s frustrating screenplay, which, in remaking a 1993 French farce, stays frenetic but never tries anything fresh or adventurous, engaging in mirthless would-be-hip slapstick centered on a goon’s shot-off ear or Atkins blasting a shotgun at Blunt from her wheelchair (“She means well,” Nighy sighs). Blunt has a saucy presence, but never emerges as convincingly scheming or screwball, and Grint’s wearying number of terror-stricken scenes and his post-Hogwarts scruff combine to make him resemble an alarmed, moldy strawberry. Martin Freeman, playing against type as Victor’s sadistic rival, and Rupert Everett as Blunt’s fuming, vengeful mark, make little impact, and director Jonathan Lynn, whose résumé has been glutted with mediocre Hollywood comedies since he helped create Yes, Minister at the BBC, can only salvage a handful of laughs from this mess. (Thug grilling artist at gunpoint about a painting’s origin: “Rembrandt? Where’s he live?”) Wild Target neatly and boringly makes a surrogate family out of its ill-matched trio of caricatures, and its epilogue of domesticity is enough to make you reach for your revolver.