2003-02-20 / Arts & Entertainment

Comic Book Hero Comes To Life In "Daredevil"

Associated Press Writer
By Ben Nuckols

Comic Book Hero Comes To Life In "Daredevil"

Colin Farrell as Bullseye, Jennifer Garner as Elektra, Ben Affleck in the title role and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in the comic book action film, “Daredevil.”                 ©20th Century FoxColin Farrell as Bullseye, Jennifer Garner as Elektra, Ben Affleck in the title role and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in the comic book action film, “Daredevil.” ©20th Century Fox

By Ben Nuckols

Associated Press Writer

"Daredevil" is a dispassionate affair, buffed to a sheen throughout — from the digitally touched-up images to Ben Affleck’s exquisitely tousled mop-top to the painstaking setup of a sequel in the final reel.

Yet occasionally, a naughtier pulp sensibility creeps out of this by-the-numbers comic book-to-film. It’s a little darker, a little bloodier, and a little more adult than its Marvel Comics-spawned counterparts "Spider-Man" and "X-Men."

On the surface, our hero sounds unassailably noble. Matt Murdock (Affleck) was blinded in an accident at age 12, and shortly thereafter, his washed-up boxer dad was murdered — perhaps by the mysterious Kingpin, who controls all the crime in New York City.

Though blind, Matt’s other senses become hyper-acute, so he transforms himself into Daredevil, a high-flying superhero with Batman’s gadgets and Spider-Man’s physique, who brings thugs to justice in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. By day, he’s an attorney who champions the oppressed.

But he’s not without his complications. Matt has casual sex and pops prescription painkillers like candy, and when a case doesn’t go his way, his revenge can be extreme. When a rapist escapes conviction, Daredevil tracks him down and imposes a creative sentence — death by subway-train bisection.

Affleck can do dark and tormented when he’s working on a small, emotionally intimate scale, as in "Boiler Room" and last year’s superb "Changing Lanes." But when he goes into star mode, it’s all smirky, frat-boy diffidence — Daredevil’s demons don’t get the introspective treatment they deserve.

Daredevil doesn’t drive the wispy plot anyhow as much as by love interest Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), whose name, says Matt’s law partner (Jon Favreau), "sounds like a Mexican appetizer." Elektra’s billionaire father (Erick Avari) wants to get out of business with Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), so the crime boss calls in henchman Bullseye (Colin Farrell) for some none-too-subtle persuasion.

"Daredevil" is meant to be the big-screen coming-out party for Garner, star of ABC’s action weepy "Alias," but playing a self-made wonder woman with every last ounce of body fat burned into oblivion, she’s an icy, inaccessible presence. She may be the only actress for whom squeezing out a tear is an aerobic exercise.

Mark Steven Johnson, who also wrote the script, directs crisply but timidly, in a style that could be summed up as "Batman" meets "The Matrix’’ meets "Spider-Man."

Occasionally, though, some personal expression seeps through. Johnson has a knack for little explosions of violence — an unexpected talent from the writer of ``Grumpy Old Men’’ and the director of "Simon Birch." A spurt of blood makes all the difference in his airless action sequences; suddenly we feel that something is at stake. The violence is not graphic, but stylized and pictorially potent _ like a good comic-book frame.

Johnson’s exuberant co-conspirator is Colin Farrell, who slips away with the movie as the multi-pierced, bald Bullseye.

Credit Johnson for upping Farrell’s comfort level by allowing him to keep his native Irish accent. We meet Bullseye inside one of Farrell’s well-documented favorite places — a pub, where he’s draining pints and playing darts. The Irish rappers House of Pain can be heard in the background as he uses paperclips to kill a man who insults his heritage.

With just a smattering of dialogue, Farrell creates a gleeful assassin, all slinking body language and rowdy comic menace. Aside from a few scenes in "Minority Report," it’s his most exciting work since "Tigerland," the movie that made him a star.

When Farrell’s on screen, "Daredevil" becomes more than just a finely tuned entertainment machine. In a movie that will rake people in no matter what, it’s fun to see something unexpected.

"Daredevil" is rated PG-13 for action violence and some sexuality. Running time: 103 minutes.

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