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Dustin Putman

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Elektra (2005)
1 Star

Directed by Rob Bowman
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Goran Visnjic, Kirsten Prout, Will Yun Lee, Colin Cunningham, Terence Stamp, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Natassia Malthe, Bob Sapp, Chris Ackerman, Hiro Kanagawa, Mark Houghton, Jason Isaacs
2005 – 96 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for action violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 12, 2005.

If trained female assassin Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) deserved a spin-off movie after the success of the Marvel comics adaptation, "Daredevil," the finished film, titled simply "Elektra," suggests otherwise. Directed without panache by Rob Bowman (2002's "Reign of Fire"), "Elektra" is dead in the water, a pointless, drearily plotted excuse to cash in on the recent comic-book-to-motion-picture craze.

Instead of building upon and strengthening the lore surrounding its title character, which should be the entire purpose surrounding a spin-off, screenwriters Zak Penn (2004's "Suspect Zero"), Raven Metzner, and Stu Zicherman have taken the lazy route, giving the viewer precious little insight into Elektra's being that wasn't already learned—and to better effect—in "Daredevil." Furthermore, that enjoyable 2003 Ben Affleck-starrer is completely ignored outside of the matter of Elektra being resurrected (she died near the end of "Daredevil"). One would think that at least a passing mention would be made of some of the characters or the story of the previous film, so as to give this new one a seamless transition, but it apparently wasn't high on the list of director Rob Bowman's things to do. Instead, he is content to shamelessly and ungracefully copy the exaggerated style of Middle Eastern martial arts pictures (think "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" without the energy or beauty). When Bowman isn't doing this, he mostly has his stick figure characters stand around and talk as they seemingly wait for something of note to do.

As the movie opens, Elektra, who has become a high-powered assassin as a way of dealing with the murder of her mother when she was a child, is instructed to travel to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest and await her latest assignment. When she catches 13-year-old Abby (Kirsten Prout) attempting to steal from the house she is staying at, Elektra inadvertently becomes involved with this harmless thief and her darkly handsome widowed father, Mark (Goran Visnjic). Before long, Elektra is eating Christmas dinner with Abby and Mark and growing to really like them. When she discovers that they are to be her targets, however, Elektra decides she is the only one able to protect them, even as they obviously know something she doesn't about why someone wants them dead.

In a witless, underdeveloped plot that changes its established ground rules any time the scene calls for it, the masterminds behind the assassination is an organization known as The Hand, consisting of a bunch of Asian businessmen and their demonic, super-powered henchmen. Kirigi (Will Yun Lee) is the head of assassins. Tattoo's (Chris Ackerman) body art is able to strip off his skin and do his bidding for him. Typhoid (Natassia Malthe) has the power to suck the life out of any living thing that crosses her path. And Stone (Bob Sapp) is, well, a large, daunting black man. Together, these uber-villains, who might have been more memorable had they been played by actors who could act, are in search of something they obscurely call a treasure. Of course, Mark and Abby are the only other ones who know what this treasure is, and, of course, Elektra learns that The Hand was behind the death of her mother. Less predictable is the confused power of the antagonists, who, in some sequences, are so mighty that they bend knife blades when Elektra tries to stab them, and in other scenes are easily punctured and killed.

The first twenty minutes of "Elektra" are sluggish, to the say the least, as Elektra travels to her designated destination and mostly sits around and meditates while thinking of key moments from her childhood. When the hook to the story finally pulls into focus—that her targets are her friends, and she suddenly finds herself on the side of the good guys—director Rob Bowman is at a loss for how to open up the film and inject excitement and suspense into what is supposed to be a fantasy-action extravaganza.

Outside of the frivolous story, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, "Elektra" drastically lacks the scope and vision modern audiences have come to expect in the genre. Indeed, the only action scenes offered up are the ones shown in detail in the trailers, and the martial arts fighting between Elektra and her adversaries is unintelligibly shot and choreographed. Adding insult to injury are some of the phoniest CGI effects to be found in a big-budget motion picture in who knows how long. A fight scene in a room filled with floating white sheets might have garnered some technical beauty if not for the fact that it never appears as if there were real sheets being used during filming. Other action moments involving wolf and snake tattoos that rip off of Tattoo's body and attack—a neat idea, in theory—are just as squandered because the effects do not look believable. Because of this, there is no detectable threat to pull in the viewer and involve them.

Jennifer Garner was a sheer delight in 2004's "13 Going on 30," zany, heartfelt, and lovable as she flexed her plentiful comedic skills. As Elektra, Garner's natural charisma is reigned back to barely a murmur, as she is asked to not do much more than mope around, kick butt when she needs to, and, during the climax, look good in a skimpy red number that would be more suited for a high-priced call girl. Garner does these things well enough, but there is no palpable depth behind Elektra's eyes. A romance that cluelessly springs up between herself and Goran Visnjic (1998's "Practical Magic"), wasted and looking lost as Mark, holds the emotion and sincerity of a freshly Botoxed face, and is only on hand because a love story was required. As Mark's precocious daughter, Abby, newcomer Kirsten Prout is more bratty than likable, and her character would have been more at home on the cutting room floor. Finally, Terence Stamp (2003's "My Boss's Daughter") briefly appears as Stick, Elektra's trainer from the past, whose part is the latest in a long line that the actor would be best to erase from his résumé.

In the annals of comic book characters who have recently made their way to the big screen, "Elektra" beats out 2004's "Catwoman" as the worst of the lot. "Catwoman" at least looked pretty and had an entertaining high-camp value to its ill-advised proceedings. By comparison, "Elektra" is deadly dull and ludicrously wants to be taken seriously. There is no sign of a smirk or wink in what director Rob Bowman has created, and so reaction to the inert and amateurish completed product is one of muted disdain. If this was as worthwhile a project as 20th Century Fox could come up with in expanding the title character, "Elektra" would have been far better off staying dead and buried.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman