Guns and numbers: Ben Affleck expertly handles both in idiotic thriller ‘The Accountant’

Ben Affleck (with Anna Kendrick) plays an autistic accountant with advanced combat skills thanks to his military commander father.

Two stars

The Accountant Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

The title character of The Accountant (played by Ben Affleck) investigates financial inconsistencies for dangerous clients including drug cartels, the mob and terrorist organizations, but none of those people show up in the movie about him. Instead, the main client Affleck’s Christian Wolff takes on is an electronics company with an embezzlement problem, which it has brought him in to solve as an entirely legal outside consultant. Eventually, Christian finds himself in the line of fire anyway, but there’s a lot of scrawling numbers on white boards and having terse discussions with executives before he gets there.

Luckily for Christian, his combat skills are nearly as advanced as his accounting skills, thanks to his childhood as the autistic son of a military commander. The Accountant takes what could be charitably described as a misguided and outdated perspective on autism, portraying Christian as a single-minded genius (both with numbers and with firearms) as a result of his condition. He has trouble connecting with people, but he forms a bond with fellow accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick), who first uncovered potential improprieties at the electronics company and thus ends up marked for elimination along with Christian. Both a determined hit man (Jon Bernthal) and a pair of federal agents (J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson) are on Christian’s trail as he tries to protect Dana and figure out who’s targeting him.

Once the lengthy setup is out of the way, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got a Gun) stages some decent action sequences, and Affleck has gotten good at playing grim, violent intensity. But the action is surrounded by increasingly far-fetched and clumsily delivered exposition; at one point Simmons spends what feels like 10 minutes laying out much of Christian’s back story in voiceover. The autism angle gives O’Connor and screenwriter Bill Dubuque license to make Christian as conveniently superhuman as they need at any given moment, and the gauzy flashbacks to his childhood are especially tone-deaf and annoying.

Those flashbacks also feature Christian interacting with his younger brother, the source of one of the idiotic twists the movie throws in toward the end (it’s never a good sign when nearly the entire theater is laughing at a movie’s big reveal). Instead of making autism one element of Christian’s personality and backstory, the filmmakers turn it into the source of practically every plot development, as gimmicky as a sleeper agent’s brainwashing or a superhero’s lab accident. It’s not even in service of an interesting story, as the movie’s villains are bland corporate executives trying to enhance their bottom line, and ultimately matter very little in the resolution. Christian packs up neatly and moves on, maybe to work for some clients who would actually make for an exciting, fast-paced thriller.

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