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Rob Bowman, USA, 2005
Rating: 1.4

Posted: January 16, 2005

So here's the deal: I get a call from Kevin Moreau, the head honcho for Shaking Through, and he tells me he's got a movie he wants me to review. "It's got martial arts action and some heavy dramatic themes," he says, and I'm thinking, "What, he wants me to review House of Flying Daggers? Isn't that artsy foreign stuff more Laurence Station's cup of tea?" But then he says, "And it's got Jennifer Garner, to boot." Oh, I see, he's giving me Elektra, the spin-off of that horrible Daredevil movie. Okay, that sounds more my speed."

Man, I shoulda fought for the foreign flick.

I didn't think a movie could get more stuff wrong than Mark Steven Johnson's Daredevil adaptation. Boy, was I wrong. Elektra had so much going for it -- a cool, mysterious comic book anti-heroine, a red-hot actress (who happens to look pretty damn good in clingy red fabric) at the height of her popularity -- but man, oh man, does this movie ever drop the ball. Hell, it drops more balls than an epileptic wide receiver. More than a Joan Rivers striptease, even.

The movie begins with your standard voice-over talking about an ages-old battle between good and evil, and this fabled woman warrior who's supposed to be a key player. But then we meet Elektra -- a stone-faced assassin-for-hire who walks around like she's got one of her shiny sais (those fancy three-pointed dagger-type thingies she's always playing with) stuck where her Playtex maxi-pads should be.

Man, this chick is just plain no fun. She's not distant in the cool, aloof way that super-hot, super-deadly chicks in these movies usually are. No, she's distant in a way that makes you think she's just read the rest of the script and is planning some creative ways to disembowel her agent. She's distant in the stuck-up way that uptight dames in romantic comedies usually are, until some handsome piece of cow chip like Hugh Grant comes around to pull the cork out of her butt. And on top of that, she's neurotic, to boot. She counts the number of steps she takes when she walks, and she's super-anal about arranging her toiletries and the contents of a fruit basket in just the right way. Wow, that's some useful super power. It's like watching Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, only crossed with Bridget Jones.

Which could be interesting, or at least entertaining, if we knew why she acts this way. We do gather that, after being killed by Colin Farrell at the end of Daredevil, she's brought back to life by Stick (Terence Stamp), a super-cool and mysterious blind mentor who attempts to train her to be some sort of supernatural warrior for good -- before he kicks her out for being too wild and unfocused. Which, of course, just makes her end up as a wild and unfocused hired killer (good move, Stick) -- and one with both absent mommy and daddy issues to deal with.

Anyway, Elektra is given an unusual assignment: to hang out on some beautiful island for a few days, where she's forced to wait around until her mysterious employer decides to clue her in as to who she's supposed to be killing. While she's waiting, she makes the acquaintance of a young girl named Abby (Kristin Prout) and her dad (ER's Goran Visnjic). They invite her over to their island cabin for Christmas dinner (because, for some totally useless reason, it just happens to be Christmas), and she gets to know them as well as an unnaturally attractive, granite-jawed killer-for-hire with a stopper up her butt can get to know anyone.

And then, wouldn't you know it? She finds out that these are exactly the people she's supposed to bump off. Except she can't do it. See, Abby, whose mom supposedly died a few years ago in a drunk-driving accident, reminds Elektra of herself as a little girl. Turns out Elektra also lost her mom as a little girl -- a fact we're clued in to by a series of bad dreams she keeps having. Soon enough, some other hired assassins come by to do the job -- and these happen to work for The Hand, a super-secret evil cabal. Ol' sourpuss dispatches these killers pretty quick, and soon she's helping Abby and her dad run from The Hand. She even tries to get Stick to help out, but he pretty much tells her to talk to the hand (or is it The Hand?).

Spoiler alert! (If you're still planning to see this flick -- and goodness knows I'd strongly caution against it -- common decency compels me to warn you to read no further.)

Okay, long story short: Turns out Abby is pretty handy in a fight herself; in fact, she's "the treasure," a warrior prodigy, and the forces of good and evil are fighting for the chance to make her join their team. And here, boys and girls, is where this confused little film, which wasn't too tightly wound to begin with, really starts to unravel. Turns out Stick has been manipulating Elektra this whole time, playing her like a puppet so that: a) she'd become a wild and unfocused, uh, murderer -- which seems not in keeping with the good-guy code; b) he would hire her to kill Abby and her father, counting on her to decide not to; and c) poor, issue-laden Elektra would thus obtain some unconventional therapy and protect this powerful little weapon at the same time.

Anyway, Elektra somehow telepathically contacts her opposite number, the head of The Hand's cool-looking and super-creepy death squad, and strikes a very unlikely bargain: They will fight for Abby's fate in a one-time-only, winner-take-all bout. (Yeah, like the bad guys are ever going to agree to abide by those rules!) And just for kicks, it's held at Elektra's old house -- the one where her opposite number, for reasons never fully explained, killed her mother years ago.

There's a series of uninspired fights, including one in which director Rob Bowman attempts to get all Zhang Yimou on us by having Elektra and her opposite number fight amid a bunch of airborne white sheets (don't ask). There are a couple of halfway decent scenes involving two Hand flunkies: one guy whose tattoos come to life, and a girl named Typhoid whose touch or kiss drains the life out of you. (Cribbed from Typhoid Mary in the Daredevil comics, but that's neither here nor there.) If you can't figure out who wins out at the end of the day, well, you just don't deserve all your brain cells.

So let's recap: You've got Jennifer Garner, who despite her lantern jaw is a pretty damn sexy woman, pouting and scrunching up her eyes in a decidedly non-sexy manner (and what's worse, she only wears the sexy red Elektra outfit for maybe ten minutes out of the whole movie). You've got a whole set of neuroses that are never fully developed or explained. And you've got all this implied foreshadowing of an epic struggle between good and evil, which doesn't come to pass here.

You've got Elektra working out her lost-mommy issues by saving Abby, but then walking off at the end of the film in Lone Wolf mode, leaving the little girl and her dad alone (expecting that The Hand will, you know, live up to its word and never threaten Abby again). You've got a couple of gratuitous kisses with Abby's dad, despite the fact that he and Elektra exhibit less chemistry than two blocks of wood. You've got the fact that Elektra doesn't insert one of her sais right in Stick's private parts for jerking her around like he does. And you've got a go-nowhere plot filled with drab, lifeless set pieces and limp action scenes.

I didn't expect much from this movie, but it failed to meet even my very minimal expectations: namely, some tantalizing amounts of Jennifer Garner skin, some decent action, and a plot that at least moderately attempts to be vaguely coherent. Three strikes and you're out. The only reason this film doesn't rate any lower is because in the few minutes she's in the skimpy red costume, you do get a couple glimpses of Jennifer Garner's belly button. Suffice it to say that I won't be answering the phone when Moreau calls again anytime soon, unless it's to review Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City. In the meantime, I'm gonna go catch House of Flying Daggers.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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