“Daredevil,” the latest comic book-to-screen transfer, reminded me of a comatose beauty queen. The film looks good, but it just lays there. Whereas sleeping beauty may eventually wake from her slumber and once again become a vital presence, no such luck with “Daredevil.”

Based on the Marvel comic book that debuted in 1963, “Daredevil” feels as old and dated. Arriving late in the game after “Batman” and “Spider-Man” have marked their territories, “Daredevil” suffers from over familiarity and a less than satisfactory star turn by Ben Affleck.

Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson, whose forte until now has been comic tinged scripts (Grumpy Old Men) and saccharin-laced drama (Simon Birch), approaches “Daredevil” with the sensibility of a fan-boy. Indeed, the film is filled with gee-whiz stunts and action, super heroes in tight, leather outfits, and larger-than-life villains that literally jump off the page, excuse me, screen.

Unfortunately, “Daredevil” is a day late, but obviously not a dollar short. A lot of money has been spent to bring the super hero to the screen, and the surrealistic, almost dreamy Manhattan skylines attest to the power of the almighty dollar. Too bad money can’t buy common sense or originality, two things that “Daredevil” shortchanges the paying audience on.

Ben Affleck is no stranger to big budget movies (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), but he seems out of his league as the blind-since-youth lawyer who uses his other super-enhanced senses to fight crime as the “Daredevil.” Affleck is much better playing reality-based characters caught up in surreal situations, like his recent turn as Jack Ryan in “The Sum of All Fears.”

As the quasi super hero/vigilante, Affleck looks uncomfortable, both in and out of his skin. It’s as if he’s going through the motions, hitting marks rather than trusting his instincts. Odd for a character that relies on instinct, including heightened hearing that serves the super hero like bat radar. When Affleck slips on his red leather outfit, he looks more like a super villain than a super hero.

Not that “Daredevil” is lacking super villains. The film has the towering Michael Clarke Duncan as the city’s crime kingpin Wilson Fisk, whose main man is a rather nasty piece of work named Bullseye (Colin Farrell, maniacal to the point of distraction). Deadly accurate in his throwing ability, Bullseye also sports a target on his forehead, sort of a sick, twisted “you are here” map for anyone unlucky enough to get in his way.

As the film’s writer, Johnson travels a well-worn path, using an extended flashback to explain how Matt Murdock, at age 12, lost his sight in a chemical spill. When his pugilistic father (David Keith) is killed for not throwing a fight, Murdock vows to fight crime, first by becoming a lawyer, and then a super hero/vigilante. While “Daredevil” still suffers from the usual array of super hero angst, Affleck never allows us to feel his inner turmoil.

He’s too busy taking the law into his own hands, and when he’s not kicking bad guy butt, he’s dueling with equally skilled and leather-bound Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), whose father is in business with Kingpin. Elektra been led to believe that “Daredevil” is responsible for her father’s death, setting up not one but several martial arts showdowns between “Daredevil” and Elektra, before they come to realize they share the same life goals.

Choosing sides is the least of the film’s conflicts. Johnson creates situations that betray logic, both in the character’s world and ours. As director, Johnson expects us to be forgiving, but it’s difficult to root for characters who make up the rules as they go along. It’s like the episode of the television series “Batman,” where the Cape Crusader tries to save and then mourns the loss of Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, only to have her be resurrected the next season as Eartha Kitt.

Garner is the best thing about “Daredevil,” another in a line of smart, sexy, athletic chicks who more than hold their own against the trumped-up testosterone. I would rather see a movie about her character than in a movie supporting a less interesting character like “Daredevil.” Jon Favreau plays Murdock’s law firm partner, a role that requires nothing more than the actor to show up and cash his check, while Joe Pantoliano is insufferable as another newspaper editor in hot pursuit of a super story.

“Daredevil” looks sharp, thanks to Ericson Core’s widescreen cinematography that perfectly captures the dark, moody world of Barry Chusid’s production design and James Tocci’s art direction. Graeme Revell’s musical score is typical of the genre, laced with power rock songs to emphasize the film’s appeal to 14-year-old boys.


Affleck not as tight as his suit in “Daredevil”


Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Favreau. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Rated PG-13. 103 Minutes.


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