Ben Affleck is back with yet another superhero story. But now, the man who leapt from a "Daredevil" dud to the polarizing "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" has ditched the cape and cowl to play a hero with a "supernatural" proficiency at crunching numbers and cracking skulls in "The Accountant." Astonishingly, it's his worst superhero movie yet.
On the surface, autistic accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck) may seem mild-mannnered. But when he's not filing tax returns for the cash-strapped farmers of small town Illinois, Christian's alter-ego The Accountant is working the books of some of the world's most dangerous gangsters, tyrants, and terrorists. This throes Treasury agents (J.K. Simmons in a crisp hat and matching tone, and Cynthia Addai-Robinson) on his trail. But in this origin story, Christian's not off meeting with shady characters overseas. Instead, he's investigating a strange accounting error at a massive American tech company, where he meet-cutes requisite love interest (Anna Kendrick). Also wedged in is a thread about an unnamed hitman (Jon Bernthal) who's targeting arrogant billionaires, gratuitous flashbacks to Christian's traumatic yet formative childhood, and that time he single-handedly murdered nine mobsters. Ultimately, though, "The Accountant" adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
"Warrior" director Gavin's follow-up to the misfire "Jane Got A Gun" is bizarrely plotted. The main story repeatedly stalls for lengthy flashbacks that blatantly telegraph the finale's supposed "twists." Plot threads are so haphazardly interwoven, that by the time a character finally resurfaced, I'd forgotten she existed altogether.
This jarring jumping makes it near impossible to connect to the characters. Making matters worse is Affleck's devotedly stoic performance. Centering the drama on a hero whose autism manifests as indifference demands Affleck shed his greatest asset, his smarmy charm. Without it, the brawny leading man seems to sleepwalk through scenes, leaving is budding onscreen romance with Kendrick so awkward it drew laughs instead of longing. Perhaps if the story was told in chronological order, viewers would have the chance to connect to Christian before the plot kicked in. Instead, Affleck's dead-eyed stare and monotone delivery risks putting audiences to sleep.
There's also something offensive about "The Accountant"s very premise, which suggests that under proper tutelage (read: child abuse), autistic children can basically become super-powered people. Its gross message is made more troublesome by the fact that Christian uses his powers to help criminals and occasionally go on killing sprees.
But hey, what if you're just looking for something mindless, and just aim to enjoy the action? You're out of luck, here. "The Accountant" has a stunning surplus of slow dialogue scenes, studded with accounting lingo, and topped off by a dizzyingly dull accounting montage.
The film's brooding tone collides so blatantly with its ridiculous premise that the audience I saw the film with was guffawing over its "dramatic" climax. Affleck delivers on the confidant physicality of the action scenes, and a sharp sound design paired with a high and bloody bounty count gives the kill scenes some weight. But O'Connor's insistence that this is serious stuff, is literally laughable.
The only bright spots in this bleak and overlong drama are J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal and Jeffrey Tambor. Addai-Robinson plays no-nonsense agent convincingly, but her character is written too paper-thin to make much of an impression. And poor Kendrick is left twisting in the wind, crafting a romance thread all on her own as Affleck looks back at her stone-faced. Tambor has a small role as a sly jailbird, and "Arrested Development" fans might enjoy seeing him in prison gear, doling out financial advice once more. ("There's always money in the banana stand!")
A master of comedy and drama, Simmons is a welcomed presence in any film. Here, he's challenged with a series of monologues that tell what "The Accountant" refuses to show about its unusual anti-hero's backstory. Simmons has so many scenes of exposition and voiceover, he should rightly be credited as "The Accountant"s narrator. It's galling that his lines explain the plot a movie I'd much rather see than the one he's in. But at the very least Simmons way with words makes these scenes feel like a wonderful audio book...with a bizarrely star-studded teaser trailer.
Lastly, Bernthal, who recently thrilled as The Punisher in Netflix's "Daredevil" series, brings some desperately needed charisma laced with menace to his role. Every moment he's on screen, I had hope that "The Accountant" might yet turn it around. But sadly, Bernthal's bits are overwhelming by excruciatingly dull storytelling.
For what it's worth, I'd rather rewatch "Batman v Superman" than "The Accountant," and you know how I felt about that superhero fail.
"The Accountant" opens October 14, 2016.