The Accountant has a pretty bad screenplay, and no mistake. If it wasn't already dragging its feet rather terribly as it headed into the second hour, two sequences would be more than enough to finish the job: one is an exposition dump that... well, after all it's an exposition dump in the second hour. It's information we don't need, and would probably have been better off without; mostly, it just serves to add some sympathetic depth to the titular character, and try to morally situate his action movie badassery to that point in the movie. A point at which we've either agreed that it doesn't matter, or we've likely passed the point that the movie can win us back. The other sequence is a twist very near the end, though "twist" makes it sound more consequential than it is. It's more of a "reveal", and it's anyway some real dopey bullshit. I don't suppose I could possibly have been enjoying The Accountant enough to feel good about it.

Anyway, those are the bad points, and the good points still aren't great. Throughout, the film relies extensively on barely-coherent Thriller Logic, a female romantic lead who seems herself unsure why she's getting herself attracted to the male, and a general sense that the filmmakers enjoy obfuscation for its own sake. I still didn't hate it, though I am not entirely sure why. It moves well enough: director Gavin O'Connor's career hasn't exactly swung from peak to peak (there's a very good possibility that the pleasantly forgettable male weepie Warrior is his masterwork), but he has apparently watched enough thrillers to know more or less how they get made, and while at 128 minutes, we cannot credit The Accountant with being efficient, it clips along at a good pace and true.

The accountant is a certain Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck), who we first meet as a child being diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder that leaves him with that favorite version of Movie Autism, the one where you can do math like a computer, in exchange for relating to human beings much the same way (I say we meet him in childhood; in fact, one of the many, many flaws with Bill Dubuque's script is that it rather avoids ever drawing a connection between the flashbacks and Christian's contemporary life, to such a conspicuous degree that I thought the film was setting up a different twist where we discover he wasn't that kid all along. Nope, just lazy screenwriting). Nowadays, Christian is an accountant for two different kinds of people: sweetly boring suburbanites who visit his strip mall tax accounting office in Plainfield, IL, and international criminals, such as cartel lords or terrorist leaders. The second group of clientele have brought him to the attention of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, with chief agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) so anxious to ferret Christian out before his retirement that he blackmails former criminal, current T-man Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to devote all her energy to finding the accountant, in exchange for career protection and even advancement.

Christian realises none of this, but he's about to have a different set of problems anyway: his two worlds are about to converge, as the process of trying to figure out which executive has been skimming money from the health technology company run by the Santa Clausian philanthropist Lamar Black (John Lithgow) leads him afoul of some very awful people who've hired a smug hitman (Jon Bernthal, wearing 2016's worst wig) to wipe out every loose end that might reveal the depths of their corruption. This includes Christian and his liaison at Black's company, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), but there's good news: back when Christian was still a kid, his father (Robert C. Treveiler), trying to ensure that his son would be able to survive a world so hostile to people like his son that even the boy's mother (Mary Kraft) preferred abandoning her family to dealing with his condition, took him around the world on a martial arts tour. Add that into the very dangerous people he works for on a regular basis, and it turns out that Christian is a Jason Bourne-level badass, ready to protect himself and Dana from whatever comes.

It's not... totally irredeemable, as scenarios go. Wonderful movies have been made from worse concepts. It is awfully rocky in a lot of ways, though. Like, the whole subplot involving Medina's attempt to track Christian down: there's almost no measurable benefit to the overall story from including any of this, though it makes the exposition go down a little bit easier. But we see virtually none of her investigation, and it's not actually clear that Christian is at any point in the film aware that she exists. So it's just kind of a big wad of movie, doing absolutely nothing and reminding us constantly that this film has snagged itself J.K. Simmons and has no idea what to do with him (could be worse, though - it also snagged Jeffrey Tambor and gave him so little to do that I couldn't even work him into the plot recap). The bigger issue is in the actual beat-by-beat screenwriting, which fails the characters (particularly the abyss where the romantic development between Christian and Dana) was meant to go, and fails the story, by depriving us of information in weird ways and offering up unclear, unpersuasive stakes. This fella rubs shoulders with the biggest gangsters in the world, the U.S. government is on his tail, and the film is being driven by somebody cooking the books of a company that makes prosthetic arms?

Granting all of that, O'Connor keeps pushing the movie along, and he makes sure to highlight the jokes, to give us some sense that maybe this isn't even meant to be taken as more than a dippy lark to begin with. It's also blessed by its cast, most of all Affleck: I would be a liar to say that he convincingly plays someone with autism (though on the scale that includes Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, it's like watching a documentary), but as a taciturn John Wick-style tough guy, he's infinitely better here than he was back in the early '00s, when he was trying this kind of material out the first time. Age and weathering have made him a better actor, or at least a more interesting slab of actorly concrete. Anyway, it's reasonably diverting: 128 minutes for this material is too many, but even with the despicably out-of-place flashbacks and Treasury scenes, it doesn't feel like it's anywhere close to those 128 minutes. The action is staged with an effective sense of weight and thrust: when Christian beats a generic henchman in the bathroom, the impact of the moment is tangibly there, and when there's a shootout at a farmhouse, it's staged with enough disorienting close shots that we feel realistically as trapped and confused as Dana. It's not a great piece of cinema, no matter how hard we curve it for genre, and I wouldn't recommend it. But I would also not recommend against it, and that somehow feels like it counts for almost as much.