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Flat Affleck
by Lucius Shepard
September 26, 2003

You can actually feel yourself growing stupider while you watch Daredevil. As the bright and dark flicker-flickers on the screen, you have a growing sense of vacancy and agitation such as a chicken might endure when it realizes its legs are bound, it’s on a moving conveyer belt, and something sharp up ahead is flashing down and doing truly creepy things to other chickens. You’re not suggesting here that seeing Daredevil would prove fatal, but the vagueness and frail apprehensiveness that come after suffering through it seem redolent of—at the least—a Near-Death Experience.

Ben Affleck, the World’s Sexiest Man according to People Magazine, and don’t you have to wonder who’s on that selection committee, because in most circles, excluding that of necrophiliacs, sexiness is generally associated with vitality of some sort . . . Ben is having a really bad career day. Dressed in a scarlet leather rig that’s surely the envy of every fetishist, emblazed with a double D that makes you think he might work as a stock boy at some sort of Chains n’Things franchise. Having to upchuck dialog like, “Can one make a difference? There are some days I believe.”

Whoa!

But then Ben is not only the World’s Sexiest Man, he’s also the World’s Most Vapid Actor (note to every other actor: you want Affleck’s agent, because the guy’s got to be an ace!), so he may well belong in the World’s Lamest Superhero movie.

When you arrive at the theater and settle into your seat, you have some hope for the picture because it’s based on Frank Miller’s Elektra Saga, one of the better comic book runs of the 80s, and you don’t yet know that director Mark Steven Johnson is Ed Wood with a budget and his looks-like-a-movie-but-really-isn’t plays more like an episode of Celebrity Mismatch, that show in which just for yucks we try to put together two Hollywood stars and see how little chemistry they can generate while surrounded by popular brands of candy, soft drinks and toothpaste . . . His “movie,” then, is an idiotic, crass, overstuffed jumble of story lines held together by vacuous characters and ineptly conceived scenes (many lifted from other somewhat less awful superhero flicks), all dressed up in the usual post-Matrix camera tricks and some of the most abysmal CGI effects to date, larded with spasmodic bouts of brainless violence and lapses into sophomoric humor. Nevertheless, you’re still hanging onto that little scrap of hope when the opening shot fades up. A rat scurries down the street. You understand this is Johnson’s subtle way of telling you, it’s going to be a dark ride.

Oh my God.

Ben’s doing a voiceover, telling us about his life.

Let’s listen, shall we?

Daredevil, aka Matt Murdock, is another of the Marvel stable of tormented, alienated heroes. Orphaned by hoodlums who slew his daddy, prizefighter Jack “The Devil” Murdock; blinded in a tragic childhood accident for which fate compensates by bestowing upon him incredibly heightened senses and a brooding, tormented nature that’s tailored for wreaking vengeance. As you sit there, you wonder how Ben’s going to handle the role. Smug and self-satisfied? No problem. Bored and dumbstruck? A snap. Dazed, listless, pouting? All within the Sexiest Man’s repertoire. But brooding and tormented . . . ? The answer is, sometimes he winces and at other times he furrows his brow and looks down. Down, you suppose, is the direction of brooding and torment. Up, then, must be where fulfilled and happy lies.

Okay. You’ve got it.

The first time you see Daredevil in action, while cruising for a little vigilante justice, he follows a rapist into a packed bar and proceeds to beat the living doo-doo out of everyone in the place while they fire their pistols non-stop, loosing maybe three, four hundred rounds, and, miraculously, nobody gets hit.

Just the thing to inspire the kiddies—they’ve been wondering how fun it would be to play with daddy’s gun.

Turns out Daredevil’s day job is attorney-at-law. Got a nice little practice. Only defends innocent people with no money, yet he’s obviously is making a killing at it, given all his fine clothes and gadgets and stuff. Nights, he goes after the bad guys who slip through the cracks of the judicial system. He loves his work . . .and he’s a lover, too. It isn’t long before he meets and mates the World’s Sexiest Woman, Jennifer Garner. She’s playing Elektra Natchios, who in the Miller comic was an assassin, but in Mr. Johnson’s world is a supermodel or something who just happens to know a mess of martial arts. Their foreplay consists of a kung fu battle that’s more than vaguely reminiscent of that heinous rape thing our hero so deplores. Then comes the chemistry part. Watching Bennifer and Jen make love arouses in you the same stuporous feelings you get when watching bacon drippings congeal after drinking a few too many brewskis the night before.

Dum de dum de dum . . .

Did you leave the door to your apartment unlocked? Maybe you should pick up some of that new Pepsi Twist on your way home.

As you’ve been watching, bits of dialogue come to your ears.

”I didn’t catch your name.”

”I didn’t drop it.”

To your immediate left, several skinny, wan-looking young boys accompanied by a pudgy middle-aged man with Coke-bottle specs seem glued to the screen by this edgy exchange.

”Does everybody have to go through this to get your name?”

”Try asking for my number?”

To your right, three popcorn-munching pre-teen girls giggle at the brisk repartee.

It’s hard to keep track of the “movie,” because Johnson is determined to cram around a hundred issues-worth of Daredevilish information into a hour forty minutes or thereabouts. The whole thing’s like the digest version of a novel, a trilogy with the second book left out. It’s more fun watching the audience drool and gibber. No wonder, you think, George Bush won the election.

A few inconsistencies appear. Daredevil, not gifted with superpowers, is capable of keeping pace on foot with a car. He can leap from a skyscraper, fall a tenth of a mile and catch hold of a wire without ripping his hand off. He can avoid machine gun fire.

Hmm.

The man seems pretty darned healthy for a guy who guzzles pain pills and takes downers to sleep.

Oh, well.

Villains materialize from the Johnsonian chaos. There’s Bullseye (Colin Farrell), an unerring marksman who hits everything he aims at . . .except one. He’s got his grouch on for Double D because Daredevil once made him miss. Talk about pique. Bullseye has about 8-10 minutes of screen time, much of which he spends donning his cool leather coat—it goes Whoosh! each time he puts it on, whirling it like a matador’s cape. You consider obtaining your own sound effect. A cigarette lighter that sounds like a nuclear explosion. A cell phone that sounds like the whack of a guillotine blade severing bone when you flip it open. Bullseye’s head is shaved and has a telescopic range-finding display tattooed on his forehead. He looks, you think, like Andre Agassi turned S&M party animal.

The interest of Mr. Pudgy Guy and his pet children peaks whenever Bullseye makes an appearance. They hunch forward and rest their chins on the seats in front of them. You begin to have suspicious thoughts regarding their relationship.

Then there’s Kingpin.

In the Miller comic, Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) is an enormous white man who is mad for evil and capable of tossing cars around. Duncan is appropriately enormous. My God, the man is his own CGI effect. But he plays the role with all of the dread panache of Urkle on steroids. He’s responsible for several murders and lots of other evil stuff, and this has something to do with the plot.

Even the pre-teen popcorn munchers are beginning to look disengaged, but they’re going to go to school tomorrow morning and tell everyone how cool Daredevil is, because it wouldn’t make them look cool to have seen an uncool movie.

Maybe this also helps explain George Bush.

All the big fight scenes, you observe, have been edited into incoherence. Jennifer Garner is the most physically incompetent female action actress since Geena Davis tried her hand at swashbuckling in the gloriously albeit unintentionally funny Cutthroat Island. Thinking about how frightened Geena looked each time she whipped out her sword makes you laugh, something that Daredevil does not. It’s a hell of a lot darker ride than you expected. The film may not end. You may be stuck here forever with the popcorn munchers and Mr. Potential Child Molester and his sickly brood, watching Jennifer worry about her motivation and Ben practice his scowl. There are worse fates. You pass the time enumerating them. There are seven in all, you decide. Eight, if you believe that an Iraqi invasion is not beyond the realm of probability.

But it does end, it really does . . . though “end” is perhaps not the term you’d use. It collapses. Finally deflates. Finishes dissolving into a puddle of Johnsonesque putrescence. You stagger up and head along the aisle. You feel collapsed, deflated, dissolving. The popcorn munchers brush past you—their giggles sound muted and joyless, squiggles of random girl noise more than expressions of delight. Glancing back at the screen, you catch the announcement that there’ll be a sequel. Your step falters, you reel. Something’s wrong inside you. The aisle seems to go on forever, angling up and up, a long dark tunnel at whose end people are waving, silhouetted against the light, a beautiful, soft white radiance. Your old friends and relatives, waiting to welcome you into an environment wherein there is no pain, no worry, no Daredevil. You hope that’s what’s happening because . . . Jesus! A sequel. You just can’t wait.