2.5 stars (out of 4)
That bespectacled guy with a pocket protector is not your average accountant. He carves out a secret life as a killing machine for the mob. He’s also autistic and is able to calculate numbers in his head, Rain Man–style. The man is deadly … and brilliant!
It’s hard to recall the last straightforward Hollywood thriller that was this ridiculous. (Strike that. The Girl on the Train was released a week ago.) But hold the audit: This film ever-so-slightly succeeds because it has the smarts to bask in its own ridiculousness. After all, in one scene, two characters being chased by shadowy figures take a time out to debate the merits of expensive hotel towels.
A handful of game movie stars help make it all go down rather smoothly. A wildly miscast Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolff. That’s not his real name. He’s a socially uncomfortable savant traumatized by his ultradisciplined upbringing. As an adult, he has difficulty making eye contact and speaks haltingly in monotone sentences even though he’s a multimillionaire gunslinger. In other words, he’s a character that only exists in the movies. (Here’s hoping Affleck wrote off his acting fee as a charitable deduction.)
Christian has his own Illinois-based business, called ZZZ Accounting, which serves as a front for all the work he does for various shady organizations. He gets paid in the form of rare comic books and original Jackson Pollock paintings, which are stashed in a mobile trailer. With the Treasury Department crime division honcho (J.K. Simmons) on his tail, Christian takes on a legit client: a robotics company that specializes in state-of-the-art prosthetics. A clerk named Dana (Anna Kendrick) has noticed a discrepancy in the books to the tune of $61 million, and Christian is hired to figure out what’s going on.
While he furiously scribbles math on glass walls to decipher the problem (shades of Good Will Hunting!), it would be helpful if someone did the same for the audience. When Christian catches the mistake and excitedly explains the problem to Dana by pointing out patterns in the phony calculations, only people that once passed a CPA exam will understand and/or care. If that.
Christian also uncovers some sort of massive dirty-money conspiracy within the ranks, prompting the bad guys to go after him and Dana. How fortunate that our hero also happens to be an expert marksman and Daddy once forced him to take hard-core martial arts classes! Thanks to these superspecial skills, the two are able to go on the run and elude capture — that is, after he drop-kicks a few goons in her bathroom.
Don’t waste one precious brain cell trying to make sense of a jumbled plot that spins off in six directions. No, really. Let’s count the ways: 1. Affleck has a complicated relationship with his parents. 2. Affleck has an even more complicated relationship with his brother. 3. Simmons reveals a personal backstory with Affleck. 4. The head of the robotics company has evil motives. 5. Affleck develops growing feelings for Kendrick. 6. Affleck confides in a mysterious British female voice that assists him by speaking into a phone, a narrative device that hasn’t been utilized since David Hasselhoff talked to KITT in Knight Rider.
The editing is so tangential that late in the movie, a weary Simmons plops down on a couch, complains to a colleague about how tired he is and then proceeds to tie up all the plot threads via one long, flashback-heavy monologue.
An Oscar contender this is not. Affleck and Kendrick have already moved on to more prestige projects — in fact, Affleck’s next film, Live By Night, which he stars in and directs, will be released before the year is out. So for now, just enjoy the two awkwardly bantering about the cost of her Vera Wang prom dress and his issue with a poster that depicts dogs playing poker. (“Dogs would never bet on things.”) Guffaw as this nerdy guy assassinates a villain and then solemnly waves to an elderly woman and her husband in their car. Applaud every time an exasperated characters cries out, "He's just an accountant!" Hey, at least nobody can say this flick is by the numbers.
(The Accountant opens Friday, October 14.)