“You should go.” This is how the title character of “The Accountant” warns innocent bystanders just before he lays serious ninja mojo on the waves of hired assassins rolling in with automatic rifles. Do they want him to set up an IRA? Organize their home-business deductions? It’s never quite clear.
The film’s an action thriller with a cipher at the center, and the cipher is played by Ben Affleck. The accountant has a name, Christian Wolff, but it’s soon apparent that this is one alias of many. He has a dinky tax business preparing returns in a strip mall near Chicago and a secret criminal career vetting the business ledgers of the world’s scoundrels — drug kingpins, warlords, terrorist chiefs.
And he has a diagnosis, sort of. In early flashbacks to his dreadful childhood, it’s established that Christian (or whoever he is) is on the functional side of the autism spectrum. Or what Hollywood, at least, considers the spectrum. Chris is a Mozart-level genius with numbers who’s a robot with people; he can blow the brains out of a melon from a mile away but he needs a cheat sheet to read human expressions.
The movie, written by Bill Dubuque and directed by Gavin O’Connor, simultaneously gazes at this character with awe and exploits him as the freakishly impassive calm at the center of an action-movie storm. He’s Rain Man with martial arts skills — a ridiculous, even insulting idea that’s also kind of irresistible.
No, I don’t know what the families of those with similar neurodevelopmental disorders will think of the movie. I do know that, taken on its own, “The Accountant” works its way from a state of enjoyable popcorn suspense to a pitch of absolutely preposterous — but still pretty enjoyable — nonsense.
The movie’s overstuffed with secondary characters, for one thing. The head cop at the US Treasury, an obsessive hard-charger played by J.K. Simmons, has blackmailed a lower-level analyst (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into locating and identifying the mysterious Accountant. Taking a breather from servicing the global bad-guy economy, Chris consults for a robotics company with a multi-millionaire CEO (John Lithgow) and a gallery of sticky-fingered executives.
Who’s the enigmatic British female voice who calls the Accountant with marching orders? Who’s the rugged hit man (Jon Bernthal) who seems to be slowly murdering his way toward the hero? How do seven dead New York Mafiosi fit into all this?
We know who Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) is — she’s the character who saves the movie from itself. A low-level CPA at the robotics company, Dana is paired with Chris on his assignment, and it’s tough to say which impresses her more, his ability to speed-read 15 years of ledgers at a single bound or stop an oncoming assassin with a bathroom sink.
Kendrick is unparalleled in her ability to play gawky, smart, adorable, and perplexed all at once, and Dana’s scenes with Chris — him still and uncertain, like Clark Kent without a phone booth, her shy and fascinated and turned on — are a thoroughgoing delight.
“The Accountant” sidelines her, though, and proceeds to crank up the implausibilities; somewhere around the three-quarters mark you realize the roller coaster has cleared the tracks and is sailing free and you’re still having a shameless time even as the movie crashes to earth in a fireball of absurd coincidences and knotted plot strands.
Affleck reins in his performance as if to atone for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but in the Accountant’s lowered gaze and sonorous dialogue, the tragedy of his inability to connect, the actor’s still playing to the galleries and for our sympathies. (It’s increasingly clear that Affleck’s strongest gifts lie in directing.) But “The Accountant” keeps you hanging on all the way to the looney-toon ending, well past the point where your higher brain functions have called it a night. It’s not a good movie but it’s not a bad way to kill a few hours. To quote the hero: You should go.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Written by Bill Dubuque. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jon Bernthal, J.K. Simmons, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 128 minutes. R (strong violence, language, hardcore statistical analysis)