An unremarkably routine superhero movie based on the cult-favorite comic book about a satanically-costumed blind vigilante, "Daredevil" plays like a C-grade grad project for a night school course called Superhero Filmmaking 101.
Faithful to his inspiration -- the era of "Daredevil" issues written by "Batman" revitalizer Frank Miller and comic-crazy film director Kevin Smith -- in several important details, writer-director Mark Steven Johnson's one stroke of true genius comes in the pulses of fluid, misty, ghostly imagery he uses to depict the sightless crime fighter's enhanced ability to "see" through sound waves and smells.
But most of the picture apes its action style -- and many whole fight scenes -- from last year's "Spider-Man." It has the same ineffectual opening voice-over, the same unconvincingly CGI-assisted rooftop leaping and building-swinging (Daredevil uses a grappling-hook-modified walking cane instead of spider-webbing) and its hero has the same slow-mo back-flip method of dodging weapons thrown by villains.
Ben Affleck, whose already stilted acting is further handicapped by staring into space all the time to simulate his character's blindness, gives a C-minus performance as the flick's homogenized hero. By day he's Matt Murdock, a lawyer for innocent underdogs and pro-bono cases (whose financially pinched firm can somehow still afford brand new flat-panel computers). By night he battles injustice and struggles wearily with his humanity, his superhero responsibilities and, of course, his own dark side.
Colin Farrell ("The Recruit") earns a B-plus and makes Affleck look like a prop with his ravenous scenery-chewing as psychotic assassin Bullseye, who sports a design of targeting crosshairs burned into his bald head. He's been hired by uber crime boss Kingpin (a ruthless but dapper colossus played by Michael Clarke Duncan) to kill a disposable, one-scene business partner (Erick Avari) and his sexy daughter -- played by Jennifer Garner (TV's "Alias"), who warrants the movie's only A grade.
She acts circles around the entire cast as Elektra Natchios, who becomes both Matt Murdock's lover and Daredevil's kung-fu-kicking, Sai-sword-wielding sworn enemy when she mistakenly thinks he killed her father. Garner displays more subtle, visceral emotion in one unguarded romantic moment -- standing on a rooftop in the rain as a blank-faced Affleck touches her cheek -- than her co-star does in the entire picture. But the poor actress is fighting an uphill battle.
Director Johnson (whose last film credit was the mawkish, heart-tugging kiddie melodrama "Simon Birch") wrote a slipshod script plagued by small plot holes and flat, inconsistent central players who are introduced randomly (Bullseye begins the movie in an Irish pub, then has to get on a plane to join the New York-based plot) and often contradict themselves in ways that betray a conspicuous lack of coherent character development.
In one early scene Daredevil takes lethal vengeance on a scumball rapist who got off in court (Murdock had represented the victim), yet when our hero meets Elektra, he comes on to her very physically and intrusively, even when she literally struggles away from him, saying, "I don't like being followed. I don't like being touched." This then leads, puzzlingly, to a flirtatious fight scene full of flips, kicks and fancy wirework.
The film is laden with rock video sequences that make it seem laughably dated already, and it's hurt by more unintentional giggles during a really cheesy love scene and an even cheesier modeling sequence in which Affleck shows off his red leather body-suit costume.
But where "Daredevil" really misfires is in the sensory-overload action scenes, for which Johnson went absolutely cut-crazy. Between the nanosecond attention-span editing, the flashes of radar-vision and the use of heavy rain effects and/or strobe lighting, it's almost impossible to follow any of the fights until they're over and one combatant is lying face down.
Even at its passably entertaining best, "Daredevil" is a forgettable, assembly-line effort with a cast of "hot" young stars picked for their marketability, not their talent (something "Spider-Man" had in spades). It does nothing to stand out in its crowded, cookie-cutter genre.
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Friday 14th February 2003
Box Office USA: $102.5M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 45%
Fresh: 96 Rotten: 118
IMDB: 5.4 / 10
Director: Mark Steven Johnson