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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Friday, April 22, 2005

Low Voltage

Back in January, when Elektra came out, I was planning on seeing it, because I watch Alias and so I like Jennifer Garner. (Don't worry, I don't go see every Jennifer Garner movie that comes out. I never saw 13 Going On 30 and I have no plans to.) However, it looked like it was going to be a crappy movie, and I never motivated myself to go see it in theaters. Fortunately for me, it was the inflight movie on my flight to New York last night, and because I had headphones with me, it was free. And fortunately for you, I have a morning to kill in NYC before a job interview, so I'm going to review it for you. (If you plan to see Elektra and insist on not knowing a thing about it, then stop reading, although really, it's not as if there are any sudden, unexpected plot twists that I'm going to ruin for you.)


The premise itself is a good one. If it hasn't been used in a movie before, it should have been. And it should be done again, only better. The basic plot line is this: Attractive female assassin for hire is sent on a job, the targets of which are to be revealed later. While waiting for her assignment, she falls for the target. When she can't follow through on her assignment, the bad guys send other assassins after the target; now the attractive female assassin must protect him. Maybe one day I'll work this plot into a better screenplay.


Anyway, that's basically the idea here. Elektra gets sent to some remote house to await further instruction. She meets the next-door neighbors, who are apparently the only other people on this island. Naturally, she falls for the handsome single widower (Goran Visnjic - hey, he's a star in Croatia...) and Abby (Kirsten Prout), his precocious 13-year-old daughter. And of course that's who she's assigned to kill. She can't bring herself to do it, and she spends the rest of the movie trying to protect them. Sounds decent, right?

Well, things get screwy because this is based on a comic book, and so some paranormal crap goes down. For starters, Elektra had to be brought back to life in order for the movie to work at all, because her character was killed in Daredevil before the producers realized they were going to spin her off into her own flick. Then there's this whole thing about how Elektra can sort of see the future, and the bad guys all have their own superpowers, and so on. Oh, and it turns out that Abby is something of a supernatural whiz in the making. So I guess if you're a fan of the "whack!" "boom!" "crash!" comic book movie genre (or you liked the end of Tomb Raider) then you'll like this movie. I thought it was kind of lame.


Prout turns in the best performance out of any of the actors, which I suppose may be due to the fact that she's probably a precocious teenager in real life (she's 14) and didn't have to stretch too much to pull off this role.


The cast of Elektra is also a good illustration of something I have tried to articulate on various occasions in the past: the difference between hot and beautiful. Jennifer Garner is beautiful (screw you, Ben Affleck). She looks like the wholesome girl next door (maybe this is a residual image I have of her from Alias, but even as a contract killer in a red two-piece bodysuit, she still looks somewhat classy). Actually, I thought she looked best in her modest all-white training suit while she was kicking ass at the dojo. On the other hand, Natassia Malthe, who plays the token female bad guy (Typhoid), is smoking hot. You may remember her from Maxim Uncovered! Vol. 1 (according to IMDB.com). She looks exactly like the kind of girl I would have nothing in common with (aside from being really ridiculously good looking). She's got the dark, mysterious, evil seductress thing down cold. She's got the black outfit working with the straight, jet-black hair and the dark lipstick and eye shadow. Her superpower, by the way, is that she can kill people by kissing them (or blowing a kiss at them, because I guess it would have been weird to have her kiss a 13-year-old girl). It's not an absolute superpower, though, since Elektra somehow survives a direct kiss.


Speaking of kisses, there's a really contrived romance between Elektra and Mark, Abby's dad, that does nothing at all to further the plot. Basically, all it's good for is an attempt at giving the movie a memorable quote, but it just comes off as cheesy. After Mark kisses Elektra for the first time and then says, "sorry," Elektra sarcastically responds, "Yeah... I hated that." And of course at the end of the movie, the exact opposite happens - she kisses him, apologizes, and he "romantically" gives her the same line. Fortunately, I watched the movie on an airplane and had a barf bag handy.


There are a few special effects that are kind of cool in the movie, mostly centering around the bad guy called "Tattoo" (Chris Ackerman), so named because he is covered in ink. He has various animals in his tattoos which spring to life out of his body (and return to him after they have completed their missions), which is sort of cool, I suppose. Also, some of the fight scenes are choreographed really well.


While I'm on the subject of effects, anyone who's seen The Matrix - the movie that set the modern standard for special effects - will quickly spot at least two cheap knockoffs that appear in Elektra, and they detract from the movie, because as you're watching it, you think, "Hey... that's from The Matrix" (kind of like how I feel when I hear the guitar riff in Green Day's "Jesus Of Suburbia" that sounds suspiciously like a riff from Bryan Adams's "Summer Of '69"). The first is early on, when someone fires a few rapid rounds from something like a dart gun at Elektra, and suddenly the action slips into slow motion and you see Elektra dodging the darts. At this point, someone in the row behind me actually said something about The Matrix; this is how obviously borrowed it was.


Then, later in the movie, Elektra and Abby get into a martial arts sparring session in a Japanese building. The scene is strikingly similar to Neo's training fight against Morpheus; the similarity is emphasized even more by the fact that Elektra (the "teacher") is wearing black, like Morpheus was, while Abby (the "student") is in white, like Neo. Also, like Morpheus, Elektra encourages her pupil, saying, "What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are; know you are. Come on. Stop trying to hit me and hit me!" (Actually, that line is from The Matrix, but she said something pretty damn close to it.) Elektra's movements even seem slow and calculated like those from several Matrix fight scenes.


Anyway, I'd say unless you're a fan of the comic-book-and-major-willing-suspension-of-disbelief genre, don't even bother renting Elektra. If you can catch it for free somewhere, though, there are worse ways to kill an hour and a half. I'd give it a rating of $1.50, as in, that's how much it's worth paying to see it. At least Jennifer Garner and I will always have Alias. Except that I forgot to watch it on Wednesday. Season Four hasn't been particularly compelling. I blame Ben Affleck.


***


As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in the main reading room of the New York City Public Library. I'd never been here before, but the building is magnificent. The reading room, which is on the third floor, is about two stories high itself, and the ceiling has intricate carved wood and gold leaf designs, plus paintings in the center. It reminds me of an old Italian summer palace in Caserta that I visited a couple years ago. [I had to look up the name of the place later, because I couldn't look it up at the library, because the ethernet ports at the tables didn't seem to be functioning. And I couldn't pick up any bootleg wireless Internet in there. I think the beautiful stone walls might have been hindering the signal.]

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