By Pete Vonder Haar | January 16, 2005

Somewhere down the road, 20th Century Fox is going to release a super-deluxe DVD version of “Elektra,” Rob Bowman’s Daredevil spin-off about sai-wielding assassin Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner). When they do, I fully expect it to consist of at least four discs, because three DVDs worth of deleted scenes are the only possible explanation for what a disorganized and incomprehensible wreck this film is.

Elektra, or so we’re told during the opening credits, is apparently the lynchpin in an “ancient” war between good and evil. It’s a tiresome plot device, but don’t let it worry you, hardly any mention of it will be made again. All we know going in is that Elektra is Very Important, and can practice the art of “kimagure,” which allows her to see the future in a limited sense. We’re also told that Elektra was somehow brought back from the dead and trained to become a lethal assassin This information is helpfully disseminated by one Mr. DeMarco (Jason Issacs, obviously doing Bowman a favor) for the benefit of his lead bodyguard before Elektra saunters in and kills them both.

After the opening assassination, she reluctantly accepts another job from her agent, McCabe, and takes time to reflect. On what, you ask? Among other things: her resurrection by the blind sensei Stick, her father making her tread water a lot (?), and her mother’s death at the hands of what I can only assume is Tim Curry from “Legend.” If it sounds disjointed, that’s because it is. Worse, all this emotional hand-wringing (while she waits to find out the name of her new target) seriously cuts into clobberin’ time. Perhaps the most dangerous conflict of all really is…inner conflict.

Elektra the Reluctant Assassin ends up providing protection to one Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his daughter Abby (Kirsten Prout), the very people she was hired to kill in the first place (surprise!). They’ve been marked for death by the Hand, a shadowy organization consisting of yakuza businessmen and ninjas. Their leader, Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), disapproves of the fact that the ninjas failed to flip out and kill Elektra or the Millers (or even wail on guitar), and so convinces their leader to let him bring in his band of supervillains, whose powers seem to consist solely of manipulating bad CGI. The Hand has another agenda as well, for Abby holds the key to their struggle for power, so killing her would sweeten the pot considerably.

Thus commences a series of chases, flashbacks, and pouting that culminates in a return to Stick’s ninja training camp (strategically hidden in the wilds of British Columbia) and a ho-hum showdown between Kirigi and Elektra in the place “where it all began,” Elektra’s childhood home.

Yeah, it didn’t make much sense to me, either. But let me just say how lucky it is for our main characters that the island where Elektra meets the Millers, McCabe’s country house, Stick’s ninja bivouac, and the old Natchios place all appear to lie within a 15 mile radius of each other, for all the time it takes to travel back and forth between them. Elektra is apparently one of those Appalachian people who never ventures past the next county line. The amount of time saved in showing everyone trekking back and forth also means Bowman can devote more time to his love of slo-mo, without which the movie would be about 50 minutes long.

A number of questions remain after the credits roll: why did Stick take her under his wing in the first place? Why is she such a self-described “bad person,” because mommy died and daddy was strict? If that’s the case, why wasn’t she a villain in “Daredevil?” Was it her daddy’s death – never shown or even hinted at, mind you – that turned her into a killing machine? Well, then how about exploring that instead of playing a handful of meaningless flashbacks and assuming we’ll connect the dots? And what happens to the Hand’s boss/Kirigi’s father, Roshi (an utterly underutilized Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)?

Anyone buying a ticket for “Elektra” in the hopes of seeing Jennifer Garner whup ninja a*s for 90 minutes (or even 20 minutes) is going to be sorely disappointed. Minus the opening sequence, the fabled assassin spends most of her time fleeing with her new charges, the Millers. She fights less than half a dozen bad guys, and dispatches Kirigi’s troupe of freaks with ridiculous ease.

“Elektra” represents all the problems that go along with making movies out of lesser known comic book characters: absent an established fan base or cadre of recognizable villains, filmmakers are forced to shoehorn in superfluous back story and excessive inner turmoil. It’s difficult to say which comic book heroine movie will come out worse when all is said and done: Catwoman or “Elektra.” The former was bad, to be sure, but in a decidedly campy fashion. “Elektra” isn’t just poorly executed, it’s emotionally false and makes absolutely no narrative sense. Even from a cheesecake perspective, it’s disappointing, as Garner spends maybe 15 minutes in her signature red leather duds.

Many movie trilogies are notable for having one entry that doesn’t quite make the cut when held up to the others films (Return of the Jedi for the original Star Wars trilogy, “Temple of Doom” for the Indiana Jones films, and the second and third “Matrix” movies), but if Marvel goes ahead with its plan to make “Daredevil 2,” they may well have the first trilogy in the history of cinema that is unwatchable from wire to wire.

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