Eric D. Snider

Elektra

The title character in "Elektra" is a superhero, but only in the vaguest sense of that word. She's a hired assassin, for one thing, which makes her a bit less noble than, say, Superman, or even Batman, who may have killed a few people but who at least never got paid for it.

More vague, though, are her powers, in that I don't know what they are. She does this thing where she'll zip from one place to another really fast, like one second she's on the other side of the room and the next she's right behind you, but she never does it in battle. She only does it around the house, mostly to alarm people. So it's really more a parlor trick than a superpower.

She can sometimes see into the future, but only about two seconds ahead. This makes her useless for buying stocks or picking winning lotto numbers.

Oh, and she has the power to be very rude to strangers and to make the wind blow suddenly so that her long, luxurious hair gets tossed around sexily. Again, these are powers whose usefulness is limited, unless you are making a movie about a frigid superwoman with sexy hair, in which case these powers might be your chief asset.

"Elektra" is crap, but it's expensive, finely made crap. It's Faberge crap. It is confusing, dull and laughable, sometimes all at once but mostly by turns: First you're bored, then you're interested but you don't know what's going on, and then you understand what's going on but it makes you laugh.

Elektra (Jennifer Garner), a warrior and martial-arts expert, appeared in "Daredevil," where she died but was apparently brought back to life by her sensei, a blind old man named Stick (Terence Stamp). In the new film, she is an assassin for reasons not explained, and she has the aforementioned "super" "powers," which she acquired through means that are not explained either.

Her agent, McCabe (Colin Cunningham) -- yes, she is in such high demand as a killer that she requires a booking agent -- has a new job for her that requires her to live in a cottage on an island off the coast of Washington State. She is happy for the seclusion, as it gives her time to practice her obsessive-compulsive disorder and to be plagued by nightmares and flashbacks to her troubled childhood. (Despite her name, she does not seem to have been particularly fond of her father.)

While on the island awaiting further instructions from her anonymous employer, Elektra meets the neighbors, Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his 13-year-old daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout). They are elusive about their past but are friendly to Elektra, who rewards their neighborliness with cold hostility.

As fate would have it, Mark and Abby turn out to be the targets Elektra has been hired to kill, but when she learns this, she aborts the mission and sets out to save them instead. Save them from whom? Why, from The Hand, of course. The Hand is a cartel of Japanese men who represent the forces of evil, which the film conveys by having them dress in business suits and sit around a boardroom table. The Hand wants something they refer to as "the treasure," and whatever this prize is, it's worth killing for, which is always the way with those evil, dark-suited consortia.

When The Hand fails to obtain the treasure, though, a squad of villains barges into the boardroom to, I'm afraid I must report, talk to The Hand. They offer to take the job on themselves, but a Hand representative tells the ringleader, "Your forces are an abomination!," and, well, when even The Hand thinks you're too evil, you must really be evil, that's all I'm sayin'.

But this renegade group goes freelancing anyway, led by Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), who has the same ambiguous powers as Elektra. His oddly powered team includes Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), who, rather than being a Hispanic midget who alerts island dwellers to the arrival of da plane, is a man whose tattoos of snakes, hawks and other animals can come to life and do his bidding. (Why not just get a tattoo of a gun and make it easy on yourself?) He also has Stone (Bob Sapp), an enormous slab of a man who cannot be pierced with bullets; and Typhoid (Natassia Malthe), whose breath and mere countenance destroys all life in her path, which makes her easy to follow when pursued.

What a delightfully stupid movie it all makes! Jennifer Garner, for her part, is fantastic, her stoicism, femininity and strength all combined the way they are on her TV gig "Alias" (though "Elektra" makes far less use of her puckish sense of humor, since Elektra herself is so dour most of the time). But she's trapped in a cryptic movie that does dumb things like having her return to her childhood home, deserted for 20 years, and finding the gas and electricity still turned on. Or the campy, overblown final battle in that house and on its grounds, where we discover the downside to having tattoos that come to life is that when they do, you fall asleep, which leaves you kind of vulnerable. Or the lame dialogue (written by Raven Metzner, Stu Zicherman and Zak Penn) that requires Elektra to tell Stick, "You talk in riddles, old man." ("You talk in riddles old man"? Are you KIDDING me?!)

What director Rob Bowman (an "X-Files" veteran) has overlooked is that comic book movies, perhaps more than any other genre, need good stories in order to be successful. We must know who the characters are and why they do what they do, and their goals must be clear. A heroine with issues is fine, maybe even preferable to a squeaky-clean one. But we need to know what the issues are, and why they cause her to wear revealing red clothing as she goes about her daily business of murdering people. You can't just put that out there and expect us not to ask why. You talk in riddles, stupid movie.

Grade: C-

Rated PG-13, scattered profanity, a lot of action violence

1 hr., 37 min.

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