It might be some sort of twisted paternal instinct, a latent dream to be a talent agent with $2,000 suits and four cell phones, or it might just be stark-raving manimal lust. But something really makes me want to help Jennifer Garner.
I realize it’s ridiculous to root for the success of an iconic millionaire actor like she’s a sad-sack minor-league hockey team, but I’ve found a cause. Instead of Buddhism or democracy, I happen to believe in Jennifer’s impossibly vaulted cheekbones, her dulcet voice and the dimples in the small of her toned back (OK, so maybe it’s not a paternal instinct). And though she’s still ostensibly riding a steady wave toward superstardom, I’m fretting. She’s making predictably atrocious choices in men. She has got a bad back from too much training. And she might have put a serious crimp in her film career with Elektra, which reprises her Daredevil role as the titular comic book anti-heroine.
This is a morose, inanimate movie made by people who seemed to sense the hopelessness of every frame but kept going anyway, like deranged paramedics. Except for Jen, the entire production is half-assed, from the limp script to the two-bit supporting players to the on-the-cheap Canadian settings, which they don’t even bother to disguise—nothing against British Columbia, but c’mon. Usually, such garbage inspires gleeful schadenfreude in any critic worth his Junior Mints. But when Jennifer is involved, I only want to spread my coat over the metaphorical puddle.
And I’m hardly alone. Her short career to date has been built on the sympathies of a white-knuckled audience hanging on her escape from peril, mostly at the center of the comically convoluted conspiracies of Alias. It’s a strange niche, even stranger because it doesn’t really suit her. While cultivating one of the toughest screen personae in recent memory, she’s still the charming prom queen/field hockey star doing all this ass-kicking. Though 13 Going on 30 was nothing but good-natured pulp, she got to smile while wearing outfits from somewhere besides the Gaultier Dominatrix line, and it was a hit.
You’d think every instinct in her lithe body would steer her back toward fun stuff during her breaks from Alias, but no. In Elektra, Jennifer laughs exactly twice, and they’re even more forced than her slutty red costume, which still isn’t as slutty as the comic book version. Elektra was killed in Daredevil, but she’s brought back to life by Stick (Terence Stamp), a blind guru who turns her into a loner assassin who throws those pronged Ninja Turtle swords and zips around the room like Speedy Gonzalez. When she’s hired to whack a swarthy guy (Goran Visnjic) and his dull daughter (Kirsten Prout), this ruthless killing machine inexplicably goes soft, and a climactic battle betwixt good and evil ensues.
You could easily miss that whole backstory thanks to director Rob Bowman, whose creation is dismayingly devoid of invention on any level. He and his team simply have no ideas, beyond one diverting special effect: a guy with animal tattoos that spring to three-dimensional life. He’s ingeniously named Tattoo, joining fellow WWE villains Stone, Kinkou and Typhoid, a woman who destroys people just by breathing on them (Jennifer wasn’t told this character is based on Ben Affleck). The action is trite and poorly edited, and there honestly isn’t a single humorous moment. It’s all pasted onto a damaged-hero-finds-redemption story so conventional that Clint Eastwood probably already wants to steal it.
“She is a treasure, and both sides seek her out,” somebody says early in the film. With Elektra, the evils of repetition and a quick buck found Jennifer first. But I have a plan. To remain a treasure, she should immediately find a strong, talky drama with an excellent director, followed by a smart ensemble comedy from somebody like Woody Allen, only good. She has so much more to offer than a swift kick to the head. Trust me, Jen. This is what I do.