Fresh out of the cape and cowl, Ben Affleck is back in theaters to present a peculiar hypothetical: What if Batman were an autistic bookkeeper? Okay, so Christian Wolff, Affleck’s character in The Accountant, isn’t technically some Elseworlds version of Bruce Wayne. But there are definitely traces of Dark Knight DNA in the genetic makeup of this mysterious millionaire, who crunches numbers on the side for gangsters, militants, and other unsavory types. Besides his mathematical prowess—a byproduct of his developmental disorder, or so it’s strongly suggested—Christian is pretty handy with his fists, a belt, and a sniper rifle. He also argues with an unseen British handler and keeps a kind of mobile Batcave fully stocked with weapons and rare treasures (an original Pollock, Action Comics #1, etc.). Is this a way for Batfleck to stay marginally in character between DC tentpoles or are there only so many roles you can credibly tackle while maintaining the impossible physique of a crime fighter?
Really, it’s a part better suited to Affleck’s longtime bestie and one-time writing partner, Matt Damon; setting aside the parallels to Gotham’s richest resident, Christian Wolff could also pass for a hybrid of Jason Bourne and Will Hunting. To play a superhero on the spectrum, Affleck tamps his charisma down into a bookish singularity, holstering every tool in his arsenal: the jockish good humor, the flairs of anger, the charm that’s one smirk away from becoming smarm. It’s a stiff, affectless performance, but it’s hardly the biggest problem in a film that suffers an identity crisis that would make the caped crusader feel adjusted. At various times, The Accountant aspires to a slick corporate-espionage thriller, a no-nonsense action flick, a tortured family drama, a quirky romantic comedy, and an earnest PSA about autism. At nearly all times, it’s preposterous.
When not applying his Einsteinian smarts to tax preparation, Christian “uncooks the books” for bad guys, sniffing out the embezzlers among them. The Accountant essentially begins with him agreeing to find the missing money at a major robotics corporation—a process that involves scrawling elaborate financial equations on every exposed glass surface. Nothing if not a multitasker, Christian can unravel an insidious conspiracy while also accidentally wooing the bubbly employee (Anna Kendrick) who discovered the inconsistencies. (Yes, the guy may be socially awkward, even standoffish, but he still looks like Ben Affleck.) Meanwhile, a retiring Treasury Department bigwig (J.K. Simmons, dry running to James Gordon) agonizes over the identity of the clean-cut mystery man he spots in numerous surveillance photos; he drops the assignment in the lap of a leveraged subordinate (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, hired primarily to express shock at search-engine results). There’s also a chatty, sadistic assassin (Daredevil’s Jon Bernthal) getting his hands dirty on the movie’s margins.
Inelegantly tying together all these errant plot strands is screenwriter Bill Dubuque (The Judge), who also relies heavily on flashbacks to Christian’s tough-love upbringing, when he learned to control his anxiety and kung-fu kick his enemies. This is the kind of movie where every major character has a troubled past or a piece of expository backstory to disclose, and The Accountant grinds to a halt right before the big finale to deliver a 15-minute, twist-laden info dump. For his part, director Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, Jane Got A Gun) competently, unremarkably keeps the balls in the air. There are lots of silenced headshots and tussles in close quarters, but no particularly memorable set pieces. (The final one could be generously described as an “homage” to the climax of Haywire.) O’Connor’s best movie, the MMA tearjerker Warrior, built to a disarmingly poignant bear hug of brotherly love. The Accountant attempts something similar, but the material is too scattershot—in that focus-grouped sort of way—to achieve anything resembling emotional catharsis.
There’s admittedly something automatically endearing about an action movie starring an autistic ass-kicker, one whose disorder is treated more like a super power than a setback. (Affleck, to his credit, doesn’t overdo the affectations, expressing Christian’s tics—like blowing on his fingers before meals—with a minimum of Rain Man fuss.) Less charming, however, are the ethical gymnastics the film has to perform to justify our hero’s actions, as though being developmentally disabled somehow balanced the moral books in his favor. The Accountant is mostly too goofy to really hate, at least until the movie starts strongly implying that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living so long as the (blood) money goes to funding worthy causes and buying priceless works of art for beautiful women. That’s a pretty big accounting error.