Call it mayhem interruptus.
Years ago at the New York Film Festival premiere of Pulp Fiction, a man had what was murmured to be a heart attack during the scene in which Travolta's character revives Uma Thurman's with a shot of adrenaline to the heart. The lights went up. The paramedics came. The film resumed.
Another episode occurred at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah just as Christian Bale's American Psycho killer was gleefully revving a chain saw. That time the film kept rolling. Park City is a cruel place.
So it was no surprise when at a screening of Wanted, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie, the fire alarm began its strobing flash sending the audience into the dusk.
Something had to give. The action had reached a fevered pitch in Timur Bekmambetov's bold rendering of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' graphic novel series about a loser who begins to know himself when he is recruited by a secret society of assassins whose day job is weaving.
For hundreds of years, the Fraternity's Loom of Fate has spun a code that names its next targets: people who sow chaos.
A chase on a train had ended with the cars tumbling down a gorge, one hanging wedged between rocky walls as two assassins come face to bloodied face.
While not a good thing, the break wasn't entirely bad either.
Catching the final two reels a few days later allowed me to ponder anew the admirable and the aggravating in the Russian-Kazakh director's first English-language film: the cast, the craft versus the exhausting gunslinging as character development.
Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) downs anti-anxiety pills and hunkers down in his Chicago office cubicle trying to avoid his harpy of a boss. He's aware that his best friend is shagging his girlfriend.
DIRECTED BY: Timur Bekmambetov
STARRING: James McAvoy (Wesley Gibson), Morgan Freeman (Sloan), Angelina Jolie (Fox), Terence Stamp (Pekwarsky)
RUNNING TIME: 110 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: on general release
As the movie is fond of declaring, Wesley is a wuss.
OK, that's not quite the word screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan use to describe weakness in a flick that earned a "Restricted" rating in the US, but you get the point.
His inner voice is much angrier than his pasty-patsy demeanor lets on. Wanted begins with Wesley's voice-over, which is mighty contemptuous for a guy who is acutely aware of the lameness of his existence. But one thing it tells us is that his father abandoned him when he was an infant.
So when a woman named Fox (Jolie) arrives to tell Wesley that his father - "the world's greatest assassin" - has just been killed (a death we witness), it comes as something of a shocking cosmic joke.
Only there's no time for laughing. A Fraternity renegade named Cross (Thomas Kretschmann) intends to kill Wesley, as he did his father, and destroy the Fraternity.
In Wesley's case, the D in DNA means "deadly." He has the rare ability to bend the trajectory of bullets at will. And so he's taken to the Fraternity's compound, a working textile factory, to train to become the killer of his father's killer.
Jolie often appears to be exorcising some demons when she takes roles that require she do physical damage. Here she does plenty. More devouring than sly, Fox is a she-wolf. Yet she pulls off the most surprising and touching scene in a movie that is 99 and 44/100 percent violent.
Wanted is all about over-the-top.
Bekmambetov made two of Russia's biggest box-office hits, Night Watch and Day Watch. As in those films, he's too willing to sacrifice story sense and emotion for a frenetic ride. The script will likely please the graphic novels' fans. But the filmmaker misses an opportunity to deepen the existential aches implied in the material.