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"DAREDEVIL"
(2003) (Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Adventure: A blind lawyer moonlights as a vengeful superhero whose heightened senses allow him to battle crime and various villains.
PLOT:
Matt Murdock (BEN AFFLECK) is a blind lawyer who, with his legal partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson (JON FAVREAU), helps the innocent in New York City's Hell's Kitchen by day and seeks vengeance on those who've eluded justice by night. He does so in the form of his alter-ego, the mysterious and acrobatic Daredevil, a figure who's drawn the attention of newspaper reporter Ben Ulrich (JOE PANTOLIANO).

Long ago, 12-year-old Matt (SCOTT TERRA) was accidentally blinded by a chemical spill. It left his remaining senses, however, super-enhanced, including the ability to "see" with something akin to radar vision. When his pugilist father, Jack (DAVID KEITH), was murdered by his crime boss for not throwing a fight, Matt vowed to fight for the little guy and right all of the wrongs that he could.

Yet, his vigilantism has created mixed feelings in him, resulting in him often spending time in a church's confessional. That is, when he's not pursuing Elektra Natchios (JENNIFER GARNER), a beautiful young woman who's just as proficient at martial arts as he is. The fact that her father, Nikolas (ERICK AVARI), has business dealings with Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN), and wants to get out of them soon puts all of them in danger.

That's because Kingpin has sent his highly proficient assassin, Bullseye (COLIN FARRELL), to kill Nikolas. Soon, Elektra's life is in danger as well and it's up to Daredevil to save her. From that point on, the masked avenger must contend with all of that, his possibly outing by Ben, and all of his pent-up and conflicting emotions about what he does and who he is.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Much like any other aspect of talent and public perception in business and life, when it comes to movies and comic book characters, there's the A-list and the B-list. Although his talent is questionable (in comparison to other notable performers), there's no denying that movie star Ben Affleck ("The Sum of all Fears," "Changing Lanes") is moving up the better list, thanks to a string of box office hits.

With the recent comeback success of big screen adaptations of comic books such as "X-Men" and especially "Spider-Man," many are hoping and/or expecting that Affleck's appearance in and as "Daredevil" will take both him and the character to the top of their respective lists. Despite the best and/or greedy intentions, however, I don't think that's going to happen, at least not with this effort.

Part of that stems from the fact that the Daredevil character isn't overly familiar to many everyday moviegoers. Created back in the 1960s by Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee (who has a cameo in the film), the character is an amalgamation of other superheroes but with one notable twist - he's blind. Possessing super-enhanced senses, he "sees" via something akin to radar and is one of the darker types of comic book characters in that he's essentially a masked vigilante.

Yet, his lack of superhuman power (compared to Superman or Spider-Man) or cool gadgets (like Batman) leaves him as a mere mortal who's both younger and more agile than vigilante characters played by the likes of Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood.

That aside, the bigger problem is in how writer/director Mark Steven Johnson (director of "Simon Birch," writer of the "Grumpy Old Men" films) has brought the character to the screen. Beyond the fact that the guilty pleasure catharsis of such acts is completely absent, the filmmaker far too obviously is playing to the teen and twenty-something set.

With the blaring soundtrack and music video approach at editing and visualizing the various aspects of the story, the film isn't likely to be a crossover hit like Spidey. Then again, the studio's decision to release it in mid-February rather than during the summer or holiday movie season should have been a dead giveaway that something was amiss.

While he has to remain somewhat true to the source material lest he enrage the diehard fans, Johnson errs by delivering a formulaic and routine plot. There's the usual back story (where we see the origin of the special powers as well as the catalytic, familial death), the love interest and hidden identity angle, the cartoonish villains and the various battles with them.

I suppose that's all fine and dandy -- considering that we're also supposed to accept romantic comedies endlessly recycling their same formula - but Johnson doesn't do anything special with the material to make it stand out or be engaging, let alone memorable. While partially a fault of the source material, most everything comes off as a rip-off of other such characters and stories. That certainly isn't helped by the visualization of the character swinging and zipping around and along buildings like Spider-Man.

The filmmaker also fails in making the protagonist's vigilante-based angst work, despite having various scenes set in a confessional. The fault's not completely his, however, as Affleck simply doesn't make any of it believable. That pretty much holds true when he's embodying Daredevil in general or his blind lawyer alter-ego. Instead, he feels like a movie star playing those parts rather than the real thing. Thus, it isn't surprising when the angst and confusion don't have the intended effect and/or payoff.

The problem flows into the relationship with the character played by Jennifer Garner ("Catch Me If You Can," TV's "Alias"). While she has the look and athletic prowess for the part - thanks to her previous work and the effort of action choreographer Cheung Yan Yuen (who did similar work on "Charlie's Angels") - the lack of consistent chemistry between her and Affleck as well as a poorly written part undermine her effort.

The same fate befalls Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Scorpion King," "The Planet of the Apes") as the hulking Kingpin, while Jon Favreau ("Made," "The Replacements") and Joe Pantoliano ("Memento," TV's "The Sopranos") don't get much of an opportunity to do much with their characters (although the former is occasionally decent in his comic relief parts).

It's Colin Farrell ("The Recruit," "Minority Report") who steals the show. Playing an incredibly accurate hitman, and enabled with his native Irish brogue, the actor is a blast to watch in the part. While no one will deny that the performance is way over the top - it's supposed to be - Farrell creates one of the more memorable villains of the genre in quite some time.

It's too bad the rest of the film isn't as brimming with as much unbridled vigor as his character. With obnoxious, annoying and occasionally confusing editing, all sorts of violations of its own universe (such as how Elektra can suddenly leap across what has to be at least a hundred feet from one building top to another) and an all too familiar plot, the film is bedeviled by all sorts of problems, yet isn't terrible to behold.

Nevertheless, it's certainly not as entertaining, engaging or enjoyable as it should be. With most of the characters still alive at the end, the stage is obviously set for a sequel, but let's hope a better job is done next time around. "Daredevil" rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 11, 2003 / Posted February 14, 2003


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