1 star (out of 4)
"Elektra," with Jennifer Garner back as the fiery martial arts queen from "Daredevil," is a spectacular comic book heroine movie that quickly turns into a spectacular dud.
Marvel Studios, movie arm of the ubiquitous Marvel franchise, may be setting the gold standard for comic book film adaptations, with gilt-edged entertainments like last year's "Spider-Man 2" and "X2." But "Elektra," first out of their box this year, is as bad as they come.
It's the would-be super-tale of a morose super-hitwoman (Garner's Elektra) who has soured on the world but comes out of her funk when she's hired to assassinate a little girl she meets and likes--and then decides to protect her instead. Suddenly, there's meaning in Elektra's life, a spring in her kick and fire in her eyes and ultra-red outfits.
The world becomes fun again, for Elektra if not for us, as she tries to shield beleaguered Abby and Mark Miller (Kirsten Prout and Goran Visnjic), a little heroine-to-be and her hunky "E.R."-veteran dad, from a gang of nasty supervillains, The Hand. And, as Elektra keeps running from these bad guys or taking them on, the movie keeps sinking into howling stereotypes and silliness.
"Daredevil," the 2003 film epic on Marvel's man without fear--and the picture that introduced Jennifer Garner's kick-butt heroine to the screen--seemed to me the weakest of all Marvel entries to date. But "Elektra" makes "Daredevil" look good.
Misdirected by Rob Bowman ("The X-Files"), miswritten by Zak Penn and the team of Stuart Zicherman and Raven Metzner, and mostly over-acted by a cast of game but unfortunate talents, headed by the striking Garner ("Alias"), this is a picture that seems to serve no useful purpose other than as a marketing tool for action toys and a classic demonstration of how not to make a movie.
Viewed in that light, though, the frenetic, flashy, absolutely empty "Elektra" is impressive. It's a catastrophe that keeps growing as we watch Elektra scowling at the world and beaming at little Abby, surrounded by queer billowing windstorms that wheeze up whenever the indoor action or slaughter commences or stripping down to her red siren outfits when faced with the villains. The Hand is a colorful but singularly unappealing lot: effete team-leader Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), ink-covered Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), the behemoth Mr. T and Rock knockoff Stone (Bob Sapp), agile Kinkou (Edson T. Ribeiro) and psycho-femme Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), who tries to soul-kiss Elektra to death.
Devotees of awful filmmaking can't go wrong with this one.
And students of poor screenwriting will find a trove of feather-witted cliches, unimaginative action and graceless, rhythmless dialogue--a script running the gamut from pointless brutal fights to charmless jokes (including L.A.-centric gags about Lakers season tickets) to an ending flooded with cheap sentimentality and would-be heart-tugging alohas.
Scholars of ineffective camerawork can feast their eyes on the flat, metallic lighting, and would-be bad editors can learn much from the slightly incoherent slam-bang action scenes and the jarring, closeup littered dramatic moments.
Fans of pointless special effects wizardry can marvel at such headache-inducing feats as the writhing snakes pouring out of the painted body of villainous Tattoo or the tree that takes forever to crash down on the seemingly rockhard Stone.
Finally, directors everywhere can take counsel from the fact that though helmer Bowman has made some good TV ("The X-Files" and its 1998 movie version), he can barely generate any interest, entertainment or excitement from this overstrained zap-and-zowie fest.
As for the acting--even though one hesitates to blame any cast faced with material like this--only Terence Stamp, doing decent work as the blind martial arts master Stick (a kind of Zatoichi/General Zod hybrid), and occasional moments of entertaining obnoxiousness from little Kirsten Prout as Abby raise the curve enough to disqualify this from any possible big studio movie worst-ensemble prizes.
What does "Elektra" have going for it, besides Stamp, Garner's wardrobe and some increased fealty to the original Elektra? Well, if you bent over backwards, you might take heart from the fact that in the largely macho adolescent world of comic book action movies, this is one with two female hard-slugging heroines battling a lot of wimpy or muscle-bound guys, who finally fold like an accordion. But that's the kind of rationale used to justify "Lara Croft" or "Charlie's Angels." It's better to give Marvel a pass this time and wait for "The Fantastic Four."
Directed by Rob Bowman; written by Zak Penn, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner; photographed by Bill Roe; edited by Kevin Stitt; production designed by Graeme Murray; music by Christophe Beck; produced by Arnon Milchan, Gary Foster, Avi Arad. A Twentieth Century Fox release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:37. MPAA rating: PG-13 (action violence).
Elektra - Jennifer Garner
Stick - Terence Stamp
Abby Miller - Kirsten Prout
Mark Miller - Goran Visnjic
Roshi - Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Kirigi - Will Yun Lee