Adapted from a comic-book miniseries from 2003 and ’04, Wanted is Hollywood’s latest attempt to piggyback on the successes of other cultish comic adaptations that recently have built a following among testosterone-addled 17- to 22-year-olds.

These flicks seem to need a gimmick to set them apart from their mega-budget counterparts, whether it’s the green-screen-driven visuals behind 300 and Sin City or the monsters and creative set pieces of Hellboy. Sometimes the gimmick works, sometimes it doesn’t. The kinetic imagery and special effects in every other frame in Wanted might keep your attention, but the frustratingly inept story is enough to drive you mad.

After an elaborate opening action sequence in which a mysterious assassin’s head is blown apart – as shown from a number of different camera angles – we are introduced to Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), an apathetic twentysomething working a desk job and feeling increasingly out of place in the world. His girlfriend is screwing his best friend, and we are told repeatedly that he doesn’t have the gall to confront either of them about it. Though breezy, the office scenes are kind of like the ones at the beginning of Fight Club, replete with lazily written voice-over narration that tries oh-so-hard to be clever.

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Wesley has an anxiety problem that prevents him from reacting in situations that most people would normally respond to, and, of course, he has to take dozens of meds for his disability. While picking up his preDELETEion at a pharmacy one evening, he meets Fox (Angelina Jolie), a sexy but potentially dangerous vixen (go figure) who tells Wesley that the exploding head was attached to his father and that the person responsible for the murder is stalking him in the pharmacy.

From there on, we’re off on a bullet-bending succession of nonsense scenes, with those not involving destruction serving as breathers for subsequent bouts of exploding objects and body parts. Here’s Wanted’s real gimmick. Wesley’s “anxiety” is really his heart racing at 400 beats per minute, which shoots adrenaline through his body and allows him to intensely focus in ways normal folks can only imagine. Of course, there’s the obligatory half-hour training sequence in which Wesley learns to channel his newfound talents. Only a few people in the world can do what he can, and they refer to themselves as The Fraternity, a group of assassins that takes orders from hidden messages within a giant textile loom (I’m not making this up) that are interpreted by a bored Morgan Freeman.

The violence is especially gruesome, the special effects feed the action, and you can tell director Timur Bekmambetov is just as anxious as we are to see what or who will get blown up next. The problem is that Wanted never achieves the furious, nihilistic absurdity of actioners like Crank and doesn’t really sell its gimmick. There doesn’t have to be some big secret behind the textile loom. Let’s just see another train cascade down a cavern with a bunch of passengers trapped onboard.

After building a sizable fanbase with the crossover success of two of his overrated previous efforts, Day Watch and Night Watch, Bekmambetov employs the same hyper-stylized visuals and convoluted plotlines here, in his first American film. It’s a shame that Wanted’s are so incompetent and borderline insulting, since the actors seem to have had a, um, blast in their roles, McAvoy especially, and the action sequences often build up to extremely visceral fits of ultra-violence that are rather exciting, much more so than the nu-metal soundtrack. Ultimately, the film’s stupid plot developments dumb down what could have been an entertaining summertime diversion.

Starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar. Rated R.