Friday, October 14, 2016

In Theaters: THE ACCOUNTANT (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Written by Bill Dubuque. Cast: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Jean Smart, Alison Wright, Andy Umberger, Jason Davis, Robert C. Treveiler, Ron Yuan, Seth Lee, Gary Basaraba, Mary Kraft. (R, 128 mins)

An absurdly convoluted fusion of Jason Bourne, GOOD WILL HUNTING, and RAIN MAN, THE ACCOUNTANT is certain to be one of the most ludicrous movies of the year, but it works quite well as check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment. Ben Affleck is Christian Wolff, a mild-mannered, standoffish accountant with a small practice in a strip mall. He's also amassed a fortune under various aliases, a genius mathematician cooking the books for some of the world's most dangerous terrorists, drug dealers, and all around bad guys. Oh, and he's a master of martial arts who's also a global super-assassin-for-hire. And he's autistic. Still with me?  He lives off the grid in a non-descript house in a normal neighborhood, going about his routine with absolute rigidity, periodically escaping to a storage unit that houses his trailer, which is filled with money, passports, guns, and priceless works of art. Soon-to-be-retired Treasury agent Raymond King (J.K. Simmons) wants to know the true identity of the man he calls "The Accountant," and blackmails low-level analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who's great at her job but neglected to include a long-sealed assault conviction on her application, with the promise of prison if she doesn't deliver.

Wolff is hired by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), the CEO of a powerful robotics corporation, to investigate a $63 million discrepancy uncovered by Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), one of the company's internal auditors. Meanwhile, freelance assassin Braxton (Jon Bernthal) tallies a body count as he offs various people skimming from profitable businesses. One victim is Ed Chilton (Andy Umberger), Blackburn's diabetic second-in-command, who's given a choice between being murdered or intentionally overdosing on insulin. The person who hired Braxton also sends killers for Wolff who, of course, disposes of them but in the process discovers Dana is next on the hit list. Naturally, the two go on the run, Wolff gradually warms up to the idea of normal human interaction as the talkative and sometimes awkward Dana brings him out of his shell (and despite his inability to read social cues and relate to others, he occasionally connects with people the best way he can, as evidenced when he finds ways to help a strapped couple find additional tax deductions). King and Medina are in hot pursuit, and so is Braxton as all interested parties predictably converge in the final act.

It's not every day a major studio delivers a violent action thriller about a special needs assassin, and in no way is THE ACCOUNTANT meant to be taken seriously for a moment. That said, it doesn't demean its autistic subject or mine him for cheap, insensitive, "edgy" laughs, though there are a lot of funny moments throughout (none more so than an Affleck "..so, anyway" hand motion and shrug after folksy and shocked husband-and-wife tax clients observe him brutally slaughtering some bad guys). The script by Bill Dubuque (THE JUDGE) crescendos to a series of contrivances and coincidences in the late-going, starting with Simmons' King delivering one of the biggest and most labyrinthine info dumps this side of Donald Sutherland in JFK. There's also a series of flashbacks to Wolff's childhood, with his harried mother bolting, leaving his military dad (Robert C. Treveiler) and younger brother to deal with the autistic boy after stern Dad decides Christian needs tough love rather than coddling and therapy (Dad being stationed in Thailand leads to Christian and his brother being taught the art of Pencak Silat). You'll spot the true identity of one major character long before that major character does, and the film seems to forget about Kendrick for most of the third act, but director Gavin O'Connor (PRIDE AND GLORY, WARRIOR) keeps things moving briskly, getting solid performances from actors who play their parts at just the right tone to prevent THE ACCOUNTANT from boiling over into laugh-riot territory. Call it dumb fun or a guilty pleasure, but it's undeniably entertaining. Perhaps Lithgow's exasperated Blackburn sums it up best when he surveys the silliness unfolding around him and shouts "What is this?!"

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