David Fincher’s Gone Girl has done for straight-to-video thrillers what Wes Craven’s Scream did for the slasher movie. All of a sudden there’s a lucrative niche for acceptably trashy, middle-class mind-candy, paving the way for the likes of The Girl on the Train and now Ben Affleck vehicle The Accountant.
It follows the apparently mild-mannered Christian Wolff, a kind-hearted autistic accountant who inexplicably works for some of the world’s nastiest dictators and mob bosses.
Perhaps reacting against his last movie, the feminist-ish Jane Got A Gun, director Gavin O’Connor serves up a towering plateful of male wish-fulfilment. The Accountant has the kid fighting back against the bullies, the man with a boring office job who’s secretly a martial arts expert, the introvert who nevertheless gets the ladies hot under the collar. At one point Anna Kendrick’s Dana bites her lip in barely contained desire at Christian’s display of mathematical prowess.
The plot squirms ludicrously from reveal to reveal, until a final twist so endearingly silly it seems designed as much to bring a smile to your face as to elicit any surprise.
There are, however, moments when things boil over from knowingly dumb to eye-rollingly stupid, such as the flash-backs to a young Christian training Batman-style with an eastern guru, or prison sequences so schmaltzy they feel like they’ve been lifted from a rom-com.
The parallel with conventional superhero movies, meanwhile, is underscored in red to the point that it becomes a distraction; Christian even owns a copy of the Superman #1, just in case you’d somehow missed the link (if he didn’t already have the job, you’d think Affleck was surreptitiously auditioning for the next Batman movie).
But underpinning it all is a typically solid performance from Affleck, tough enough to breathe life into the formulaic action sequences and with deft enough comic-timing to make the paper-thin jokes fly.
Beneath the big studio budget and A-list cast lies the spirit of a movie that Channel 5 would have aired in the late 1990s. If you're on board with that (and can see past the problematic fetishisation of the autistic savant), you’ll probably get on just fine with The Accountant.