A high-functioning autistic number-cruncher who uses aliases derived from famous maths geniuses (Lou Carroll, etc) is at once an international forensic accountant for ‘some of the scariest people in the world’ and a vigilante avenger. Though Bill Dubuque’s script is an original, it feels like the introduction for the sort of freak supertoughguy who’d feature in a series of thick paperback thrillers or would soldier on through a comic book saga. We get a lot of origin flashbacks, a parallel investigation by the Treasury which isn’t what it seems, and a twisted family saga overlaid on the actual story, in which Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is called in to look at the cooked books of a robotics company and then dismissed after he’s found the hole in the finances but before he’s finished the job (which is calculated to drive him pottier).
When hit men come after him and Dana the whistleblower ditz (Anna Kendrick), he unpacks his peculiar set of non-financial skills – sniper rifle sureshottery, bone-breaking martial arts, commando tactics – to see off the killers, rescue the girl on a seeming whim and go after the obvious culprit (John Lithgow as a humanitarian robovisionary), who has hired Brax (Jon Bernthal), his own ruthless fixer, to cover up his malfeasance then protect him from the avenger. And the baddie might have gotten away with it if, goshdarnit, Brax didn’t turn out to be Christian’s estranged but still-loving brother – a soapy reunion means we’re supposed to remember that when we first met Brax he was strongarming a nasty corporate raider in a Swiss car park and think he’s not such a bad sort, even if he did murder a couple of entirely innocent folk in the interim and everyone on his squad is the sort of expendable goon Bryan Mills or John Wick leave lying broken-necked, heartstabbed or headshot in their wake.
The backstory involves the boys’ military father (Rob C. Treveiler), who drives their mother (Mary Kraft) away by not sending Christian to a touchy-feely sylvan institute for misunderstood geniuses who do jigsaw puzzles upside-down but instead tries to help him with his condition by putting him through killbot training and instituting a regimen of torturing his sensibilities every day with blasts of strobelight, heavy metal music and shin-bashing self-abuse. Ray King (JK Simmons) of the Treasury blackmails Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), an agent with a secret past (a firearms conviction), into tracking down the accountant from a few photos and other clues … though he turns out to be Wolff’s government contact and testing her out as a replacement, doling out a whole bunch more fill-in-the-gaps flashbacks involving a fight at Wolff’s mother’s funeral, a spell in prison as best friend to a mob moneyman ((Jeffrey Tambor) and a Punisher-like vengeance spree that’s taken down a whole crime cartel.
Affleck is pretty good as the buttoned-down oddball hero, who retreats to a silverstream trailer with a Jackson Pollock and a copy of Action Comics #1 amid the gold bars and cash stash, and Kendrick works hard to invest the script’s token normal with enough charm to suggest why the hero breaks the havits of a lifetime to help her out. The action stuff is fine, though familiar – how many times have we seen the skilled but cornered hero reverse the tables on a bunch of thuggish stuntguy hit men? Or a one-man assault on a heavily-fortified mansion staffed by a dwindling number of expendable goons that winds up with a one-on-one fight between the antagonists? Though, admittedly, it’s a tad unusual that the leads call it off after a punch-up and hug instead – not to mention that it’s a messy strand that edges the Wolff-Dana relationship into a corner. There’s a weird feel to its mix of action thuggery, sincere and expert-advised depictions of autism (though only of the weird genius type – Hollywood still doesn’t give a shit about low-functioning autistics), insanely and needlessly convoluted storytelling, dangling plot threads no one bothers to pick up (the robotics guy’s scam is say what again?), supercool assassin/accountancy lifestyle fantasy (a ceiling-mounted chaingun in the suburban garage doesn’t even get used) and star vehicle posing. Its comic book pedigree extends to making this a duel between estranged brothers played by the latest incarnations of Batman and the Punisher, with JJ Jameson/Commissioner Gordon on the sidelines.
If you want to know why character actors would rather do TV than films, check out the absolutely nothingy role Jean Smart (outstanding in Fargo and Legion) gets stuck with. Director Gavin O’Connor was holding the megaphone when the music stopped and wound up credited with Jane Got a Gun – but that doesn’t seem to have hampered his steadily unspectacular career since he instantly landed this high-end-of-routine assignment and is now lined up for the breathlessly awaited Suicide Squad 2 while Dubuque is pitching a Nightwing script … and there’s an ‘Untitled Accountant sequel’ in development.