“Calculate your choices.” That’s the tagline for Gavin O’Connor’s predictably dumb action thriller The Accountant. Yet it’s also soluble advice that screenwriter Bill Dubuque could have heeded before sitting down to write the damn story, because this 128-minute slog from Warner Bros. is not only as boring and forgettable as its yawn-worthy title suggests, it’s as messy and uneven as the studio’s recent slate of blockbusters.
Ben Affleck stars as the film’s titular juggernaut Christian Wolff, an autistic mathematical savant whose shadowy life as a forensic accountant for notorious criminal organizations is masked by his boring day-to-day hidden behind a desk in a Midwestern small-town CPA office. He’s a solitary man who rebuffs any human connection and does quirky things like blow on his fingers before tackling a case or, you know, stomp people to death.
His world could crumble at any second, though, which is why he lives by a strict code and has all his valuables — from Jackson Pollock originals to shiny bars of gold — tucked away in a swanky motor home that can take him to a new life in a matter of minutes. Oh, this guy’s good, this guy’s real good, and although he mercilessly beats himself up behind closed doors, he maintains a calm, muted demeanor akin to Clark Kent.
On his tail is a U.S. Treasury agent named Ray King, played by Whiplash psychopath J.K. Simmons, who’s getting too old for this shit and wants to retire. But he’s hell-bent on finding Wolff before he hangs up his hat, so he calls a smart, albeit troubled, agent named Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to do his dirty work, which boils down to a few nights of pandering research that would make even Dan Brown roll his eyes.
Sounds simple, right? It should be, but Dubuque, perhaps realizing his story is about as paint-by-numbers as action thrillers can get, overcomplicates it all by doubling down on flashbacks, stringing along superfluous plot lines, and tossing out the stopwatch on any kind of pacing. As such, The Accountant tallies up its numbers for an achingly long 50 minutes before it starts to finally piece together any semblance of a structured plot.
What’s also aggravating is the lingering feeling that the entire film is nothing more than an origin story for a future franchise — you know, kind of like Warner’s answer to Jason Bourne. These suspicions are confirmed when the film keeps piling the mythology atop Affleck’s anti-hero. Some of it is far-fetched, but some of it turns downright offensive, especially when the film shoe-horns in some color commentary on autism.
Much of this might have worked if the film weren’t so tone-deaf. Instead, O’Connor and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey refuse to embrace the story’s obvious genre leanings and aim high for something that ends up hideously self-righteous. Sure, there are glimpses of stylistic self-awareness — namely, one sequence involving Affleck, a big gun, and some bandits taking over a farm — but otherwise the whole film looks like a sterile IKEA catalogue.
Most of the cast appears similarly removed, too, stumbling around with excess baggage. Anna Kendrick arrives from another movie, beaming with jokes before regaling Affleck with a lengthy prom story. Simmons, as if he’s roasting mallows by the campfire, spends at least 15 minutes talking to Addai-Robinson about his past, and looks just as bored as she does. And finally, a lollipop-toting Jon Bernthal brings the Spam to the would-be steak dinner.
For this film, the supporting cast of Hollywood champs and veterans — don’t forget to toss in John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jean Smart for good measure — is incredibly distracting, if only because their bookmark appearances suggest something substantial from them. Sadly, they’re fodder for a premise that never sweats to support itself, casually strolling from one plot point to the other like its hunky star does between kills.
The Accountant isn’t worth your tax dollars. It’s a waiting room for Warner’s contract star, whose bright career in filmmaking has already been marginalized enough thanks to mediocre superhero duds. Affleck doesn’t need these macho movies anymore, and to be fair, neither do we. We’ve had five Bournes, three Takens, and we’re only a week away from a second beating by Jack Reacher. It’s more than okay to toss Christian Wolff’s W-9 in the shredder.