If it’s true that there’s no new thing under the sun, how do you explain Ben Affleck’s The Accountant, a movie that combines Jason Bourne and Rain Man?
In this spectacularly improbable and, when all is said and done, improbably enjoyable thriller, Affleck plays Christian Wolff. Diagnosed with autism as a boy, Wolff has grown up to be a brilliant numbers cruncher employed by international crime syndicates to mind their accounts. Emotionally remote but laser-focused on his surroundings, he’s also a killer marksman, martial arts warrior and, in a rather circuitous fashion, crusader for justice. Great kidder, too: He launders money through an actual laundry.
For the sake of keeping up professional appearances, Wolff takes on a job that doesn’t involve the mob: He’s hired to look for possible embezzlement in an up-and-coming conglomerate that specializes in developing high-tech prostheses. The fact that the company is run by John Lithgow — and that Lithgow’s sister is Jean Smart — is enough to tip off the audience that Wolff is dealing with something messier than a few misplaced decimal points in a long sequence of zeroes. You don’t put character actors of that caliber in supporting roles only to have them wrap pennies. Oh: Anna Kendrick plays the firm’s whistleblower. It’s a cute, winsome, out-of-place performance.
Meanwhile — because The Accountant has plot threads the way hyrdas have heads — Wolff has somehow landed in the crosshairs of an assassin (Jon Bernthal) and at the same time he’s being tracked by a Treasury criminal-enforcement bigwig (JK Simmons) and his new aide-de-camp (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Both of them have more backstory than Carrie Mathison in Homeland, which means that they not only drive the narrative but occasionally take it into side streets and park it. But they have nothing on Wolff, whose life is fleshed out with many flashbacks. These often involve his father, who — as brutal but loving parents go — isn’t far removed from the mother bear in The Revenant.
The Accountant is so brazenly silly in so many ways that it borders on the tongue-in-cheek — this, perhaps, is what ultimately sustains it for more than two hours. (Wondering if a movie is really on the level generates its own pleasurable form of suspense.) Mr. Wolff, for example, owns a Jackson Pollock and a Renoir, and stores them in a vintage Airstream trailer he keeps in the garage (the Pollock, by the way, hangs from the ceiling. He looks at that instead of clouds). And he’s given instructions and updates over the phone by a mystery woman with a posh British accent. At first you may wonder if Mrs. Kensingston had misdialed while trying to reach Austin Powers.
Lithgow, in one key scene, surveys the mayhem around him and screams, “What is this?” A perfectly understandable query.
Then again, even if the movie doesn’t add up, it’s fun. (Oct. 14, R)