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Elektra

Published: Thursday, Jan. 13 2005 12:49 p.m. MST

Blissfully Ben Affleck-free, the "Daredevil" spin-off "Elektra" benefits greatly from the presence of Jennifer Garner, who steps from the shadows of Hell's Kitchen rooftops into the spotlight of her own butt-kicking chick flick.

Garner has proven herself the ideal action figure from her star-making role on TV's "Alias." Playing Elektra, the Marvel Comics warrior princess, is a perfect fit for the perfectly fit actress. When she saunters across a room in a red lace-up bustier and low-slung red leather pants, her long, brown hair swirling wildly in the artificial wind, it makes absolute sense — we see her do this every week. Elektra could be just another of the many disguises Sydney Bristow dons before destroying someone who has underestimated her.

But Garner's charms extend beyond the mere physical. Simply by showing up, she makes "Elektra" far more entertaining than it has a right to be. So when Elektra says to her mentor, a blind martial arts expert named Stick (Terence Stamp), "You talk in riddles, old man," she makes the line tolerable and not laugh-out-loud corny.

Let's back up a second, though: If you did see "Daredevil," you'll recall that Elektra, the girlfriend of blind lawyer/crimefighter Matt Murdock, died at the end. The magical, mystical Stick resurrected the orphaned Elektra, and she now lives a solitary existence as a highly trained, highly paid assassin.

Elektra's latest assignment is to take out Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his 13-year-old daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout). The reclusive Elektra had just met them, sharing a shy Christmas dinner while renting a house on a quiet island.

What she didn't know was that they were hiding from The Hand, a secret group with dark powers. They're after Abby, who (like Elektra) is a martial-arts prodigy and who (like Elektra) lost her mother at a young age. Elektra finds herself fighting to protect the father and daughter instead of killing them, and Abby becomes sort of her Mini-Me.

In telling their story, director Rob Bowman seems to be borrowing from everything, from the slo-mo gothic aesthetic of a Guns N' Roses video to the dazzling outdoor fight sequences of "House of Flying Daggers." Elektra's signature sword travels magically through row after row of a topiary labyrinth until it squarely pierces its intended target, and ninjas drop from the trees like spiders dangling from freshly spun webs.

Everything comes back to Garner, though — and even when the movie takes itself too seriously, thankfully she never does.

"Elektra" is rated PG-13 for action violence. Running time: 93 minutes.