ElektraReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/14/05 23:48:40
In sports, they call it “addition by subtraction”–the process by which one improves the team by getting rid of some of the deadwood in order to allow the brighter talents to shine any brighter. That appears to have been the theory behind the making of “Elektra,” a spin-off of “Daredevil,” a film that was not exactly a triumph with critics or audiences but which made enough money (most admittedly during the increasingly crucial first weekend) to warrant a follow-up. Instead of a mere retread of the original, the filmmakers have chosen to jettison the stuff that audiences didn’t particularly care for the first time around (namely Ben Affleck as Daredevil) and focus on the elements that they did respond to, namely the charms of Jennifer Garner as the leather-clad ass-kicker Elektra, by spinning her off into her own film with nary a mention of its predecessor. In theory, it sounds like a good idea but in practice, “Elektra” is a noisy, silly botch that actually makes viewers slightly nostalgic for the sight of Ben Affleck.“But wait,” those of you who actually remember “Daredevil” (I presume there are some of you out there) might ask, “didn’t Elektra die at the end of the previous film?” Uhh, yeah, but to quote Monty Python (one of the ways I was able to keep my wits about me), she got better. It turns out that she was whisked away to the training compound run by her former teacher Stick (Terrence Stamp). Sadly, being dead didn’t quite agree with her and Stick soon bounced her out of the facility into the real world where she has been making a humble living as a high-paid assassin that is so legendary that her prey, instead of attempting to escape, realizes that such efforts would be futile and instead inform their replacement bodyguards (she dusted the old ones in a few minutes) about the futility of fighting her. Okay, I know these guys are supposed to be evil and all but if they were that resigned to their fates, why bother hiring the second team?
Anyway, her agent (yes, even high-priced assassins have agents) informs her of a new gig for which she will be paid $2 million. Hanging around in the lavish island house rented for her while waiting information on her eventual targets, she winds up befriending the only other people around, the hunky-yet-brooding Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his kleptomaniac 13-year-old daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout). Having established this scene, the more aware viewers in the audiences can start counting down the moments when Elektra learns that her intended targets are . . . gasp . . . . Mark and Abby The interesting thing about this revelation is that I suspect that most viewers would probably be more than happy to dispatch the thoroughly obnoxious and unpleasant Abby in the most violent and brutal way possible. Instead of going into detail about how repellent she is, let me just simply say that if Abby were a member of the Brady Bunch, she would be Cousin Oliver.
Despite the knowledge that she would be honored throughout the world for dusting the little brat, the hard-core assassin who is utterly impervious to emotion (as we are repeatedly told) finds herself unable to whack the pair and leads them to safety. It transpires that they are being chased by an ancient evil organization known simply as “The Hand” (no laughing), led by Roshi (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa)and evil minions Stone, Tattoo and Typhoid (ah, go ahead and laugh) and that the little brat is somehow the key to an endless battle between good and evil that threatens the very fabric of the world. Only Elektra, aided by Stick and his benevolent ninja army can help save the day and discover Abby’s secret.
Of course, I am making the plot seem far more complex than it actually is for once the basic set-up is established, it just descends into a series of uninspired fight scenes that are jazzed up with epileptic edits and fancy camera tricks in order to make them seem more interesting than they actually are. Sadly, no such efforts were deployed for the screenplay, a mish-mash which sounds as though it was written by the same people who used to do the English dubs for old kung-fu movies. How else to explain a screenplay that contains such lines as “The war has just begun,” “Don’t mock me, I’m still your superior,” “Venerable master” and “I have to remove my DNA” (which is not what you think.) There are a few interesting ideas (such as having Elektra be an obsessive-compulsive)that aren’t developed and others that make absolutely no sense. Take the character of Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), a killer who can apparent wilt people to death with her breath or even a kiss. Near the end, she makes a statement about how powerful she is but the only things that we have seen her kill are some vegetation; the people she actually attacks (including Elektra, whom she give a not-at-all-gratuitous lip-lock) all pull through with nary an ill effect. This isn’t a character worthy of world domination–she is more deserving of a Certs ad.
Although she demonstrates on “Alias” every week that she has the chops to go from high drama to intense action to silly comedy without a hiccup, Jennifer Garner’s talents (at least the ones not visible in the red bustier she dons throughout) are thoroughly wasted on a character who has exactly one character trait–intense sullenness–and is forced to stick with it throughout without any of the sense of excitement that even the most emotionally tortured superheroes demonstrate from time to time; she is supposed to get a rush from the mayhem she creates but she looks as bored as a data processor punching in figures. The rest of the performers range from the aggressively bland (Visnjic) to the actively annoying (Prout). The only person who seems to be having any sort of fun is Stamp, who is one of those guys like Christopher Lee who can invest even the weakest lines with a bit of meaning while still letting you know that they think that what they are saying is utter bunkWhen most action films turn out to be bummers, you just sort of forget them and move on but “Elektra” is more of a disappointment because it features both a character who could actually be an intriguing screen heroine in the right hands and an intensely appealing actress capable of pulling it off with the right material. However, neither are well-served in this cheap-jack effort that squanders all of that goodwill on a rip-off that all but guarantees that another one will never get made. Remember what I said earlier about addition by subtraction? Well, based on the evidence on the screen, it looks as if the people behind “Elektra” tried to add OCD, ADD and T&A, but all they got was a lot of BS.
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