Gary McKendry’s “Killer Elite” doesn’t re-invent the wheel. Hell, it doesn’t even try. The plot is straight out of the ’80s (perhaps not ironically, considering the film’s setting), which is when most of us started overdosing on this stuff. Frankly, if you’re not one of the guys that raided your neighborhood ma and pa videostores for the latest action movie with titles like “Revenge Mission”, “Dark Justice”, or “Justice Fire Shoot Kill Kill Kill”, then you probably shouldn’t be watching “Killer Elite” in the first place. Of course, that doesn’t really excuse the film for being such a shoddily scripted affair, but hey, at least Jason Statham is still pretty great at playing Jason Statham, Robert De Niro with an assault rifle is always fun stuff, and Clive Owen grew a friggin’ mustache for the role. So, there’s that.
The film opens in grand style, with professional killers Danny (Jason Statham) and his mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) doing what they do best, which in this case is kill folks for money. The job doesn’t go off without a hitch, though, the result of which sends the he-may-be-a-killer-but-he’s-still-got-a-conscience Danny into self-imposed exile. Luckily for our hero, his neighbor is played by “Chuck’s” Yvonne Strahovski (here employing her native Aussie accent), and of course, sparks fly. Meanwhile, ol Hunter’s got himself into a little jam when one of those rich Middle Eastern types abducts him, forcing Danny to come out of retirement to save the day. In order to save his friend, though, Danny has to take out some British special forces killers that the sheik blames for the murders of his young’uns. This, of course, brings Clive Owen and his mustache into the equation.
Supposedly based on a true story (via a novel called “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes), “Killer Elite” won’t feel very much like a true story. In fact, it feels like Gary McKendry and fellow screenwriter Matt Sherring spent most of their time watching ’80s and ’90s action movies from Hollywood and decided to make one just like it. “Killer Elite” features one-dimensional manly heroes and cardboard bad guys clashing and bantering, none of which are very convincing, but hey, at least the film’s gritty ’80s vibe makes for an interesting look in 2011. First-time director McKendry excels in the film’s early action sequence, but stumbles the rest of the way. I’d imagine he’ll get better with staging coherent action in the future, but “Killer Elite” feels very much like a work-in-progress for the director.
The film’s advertising promises a star-studded cast, and it certainly makes good with the triumvirate of Statham, De Niro, and Owen. Of the three, Owen’s Spike feels the most fleshed out, but that could just be the mustache. Really, that is a ridiculously looking ’80s manly mustache right there, folks. Statham, meanwhile, is playing Statham, bald head and all. Dude isn’t going to change now, and I suspect, he won’t be changing anytime in the future. And why should he? Moviegoers love a bald Jason Statham killing bad guys. He’ll be wise to keep giving them what they want until they ask for something else. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, though, which probably means you can expect a “Transporter 10” in about another decade or two. And while he is onscreen only intermittently, De Niro still impresses in a couple of nifty action scenes. Neil McCauley still knows how to handle that M16 like a champ.
“Killer Elite” has enough going for it that you’ll probably be able to look past its deficiencies. And yes, there are many, but because I expected most of them going in, their appearances really didn’t disappoint me as much as they reasonably should have. I guess in this case, my expectations (or lack thereof?) served me well. Danny’s relationship with farm gal Anne is pretty silly, but not more so than those shadowy Feather Men types (with the exception of Owen’s Spike). But then again, this is a movie about killer elites globe-trotting to kill other killer elites. Hell, it’s right there in the title. And while the back and forth between Danny and mentor Hunter can be groan-inducing as times, it’s still, well, kind of fun to watch.
So the final word here? Go in for the explosions, shoot-outs, car chases, and Clive Owen’s mustache. Forget about even the remote possibility that the film is actually based on a true story. In fact, you should embrace “Killer Elite” for what it is — a manly man’s action movie that has no room — nay, no time — for believable plotting, characterizations, and story logic. In that respect, it should play reasonably well with people who enjoyed the bromance of films like “The Expendables”, which, not coincidentally enough, also co-starred Statham. In fact, “Killer Elite” would make a great double-header with “The Expendables”. Watching these two films back to back might grow some hair on your knuckles.
Gary McKendry (director) / Ranulph Fiennes (novel, “The Feather Men”), Gary McKendry, Matt Sherring (screenplay)
CAST: Jason Statham … Danny
Clive Owen … Spike
Robert De Niro … Hunter
Dominic Purcell … Davies
Aden Young … Meier
Yvonne Strahovski … Anne
Ben Mendelsohn … Martin
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje … Agent