'Elektra': At Least Ben Affleck's Not In It, By Kurt Loder

There's a skeleton of a cool fantasy story here, but the clatter and clunk of its fleshless bones is dispiriting.

"Elektra": Starpower Outage

Jennifer Garner's Elektra character was maybe the second-best thing in "Daredevil," the 2003 movie in which the modelesque assassin made her debut. (The best thing about that film, of course, was the part where it ended.) Now she's the second-best thing once again, in her own movie, the only really good thing about which is the fact that Ben Affleck's pallid Daredevil character makes no appearance in it. (The ending of this film is such a dribbly disappointment, it doesn't even qualify as a pleasure-by-default.)

"Elektra" must be the pokiest superhero movie of the current comic-book revival. There's an awful lot of walking about and brooding and staring out to sea. Occasionally a character will sigh, or maybe raise an eyebrow. At one point, the three leads sit down to have dinner, and we get to watch. (Oh boy.) There are bad guys, of course, but more often than not, we have to wait for them to show up. And wait, and wait. Sitting through some of the more torpid parts of this picture is like cooling your heels at the DMV during a power outage.

There's a skeleton of a cool fantasy story here (the Elektra character was created by graphic-novel auteur Frank Miller back in the mid-'80s), but the clatter and clunk of its fleshless bones is dispiriting. Suffice it to say that the sword-wielding Elektra, who was clearly deceased at the end of "Daredevil," is back; don't ask how. ("I died once," she mutters, without further elaboration.) She's been hired by "The Hand," a group of semi-supernatural rub-out specialists, to terminate a man named Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his cute teenage daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout), who are holed up in a big house on an island somewhere. Elektra dutifully lines these two up in the sights of her sniper-scope (which is affixed to a ridiculously ornate bow-and-arrow rig — can't she afford a rifle?), but then decides not to go through with the hit. The Hand, hearing about this, dispatches a whole team of assassins to do the job, among them a guy named Tattoo (his torso full of tats teems with evil life), another called Stone (a big bulletproof fellow), and a menacing babe named Typhoid, who wears a push-up bra and, in addition, turns people to stone. (You'd think that would be Stone's job, actually, but ... whatever.)

Meanwhile, Elektra is consulting with her martial-arts sensei, Stick (the ever-sonorous Terence Stamp), who's headquartered, rather oddly, in a pool hall. Stick says things like, "Don't look for your opponent — know where he is." He's not much help. So Elektra rejoins Mark and Abby, and they wait for the dispatched assassins to attack. And, as I say, wait and wait.

The attack finally comes, of course. But the action scenes are so brazenly derivative, they might possibly provoke a class-action lawsuit. A sword fight conducted in a roomful of floating white sheets is clearly a rip from "Hero." Elektra's slow-mo dart-dodging (the villains have no gun budget either) is yet another feeble reprise of the once-fresh "Matrix" bullet-time scenes. And the inevitable panoply of wire-borne leaps and drifting kung-fu kicks has never seemed less fresh.

The actors, with one exception, are perfectly okay. Goran Visnjic has an appealing, thoughtful-hunk presence, and Kirsten Prout is plucky in an agreeably unirritating way. (She suggests a pint-size Renée Zellweger.) And it's too bad that the uncredited Jason Isaacs, that virtuoso hambone, best known for his portrayal of the hissable Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter pictures, is dispatched so early on.

But these people labor entirely in vain. Because "Elektra" is becalmed by the po-faced Jennifer Garner, whose relentlessly inexpressive performance sucks the wind out of just about every scene in the movie. After two hours, as the picture peters out, little Abby asks Elektra, "Will I see you again?" Elektra's response suggests the dismal possibility of a sequel. My own was less generous, I'm afraid, and immediate: No way.