With Robert DeNiro, Jason Statham, and Clive Owen, Killer Elite has no shortage of star power. With nearly two solid hours of blood, bullets, and things going boom, there’s also no shortage of action– especially for folks with a Y-chromosome.
If you’re looking for anything else (say… a coherent story or sharp, witty dialogue), you’ve come to the wrong place.
Maybe I’m spoiled by the recent glut of smart and genuinely entertaining films (Contagion, Drive, Warrior, The Debt), but barely 15 minutes into Killer Elite, you’ll swear it was the middle of July again.
In and of itself, that’s not really a problem; Killer Elite is perfectly fine (with one glaring exception). It does what it sets out to do… and nothing more.
The movie is based on the ‘true story’ (everyone else puts it in quotes, too) chronicled by Ranulph Fiennes in his book The Feather Men. It tells the tale of elite black ops field agent Danny Bryce (Statham), who’s forced to hunt down a quartet of British SAS agents. ‘Forced’ because an Omani sheik has kidnapped Danny’s colleague Hunter (DeNiro), and will not release him until Danny kills the agents responsible for the deaths of the sheik’s sons. Plus, Danny will also get $6 million if his mission is successful.
Danny then assembles his own squad of top-notch guys to help finish the mission and get his friend freed. Meanwhile, the SAS finds out about the mission and sends their own top-notch guy, Spike (Owen), to foil the plans. Mayhem ensues.
…which brings us back to the ‘glaring exception’.
For some reason, Danny is portrayed as ‘the good guy’ in all this, which the SAS (and Spike, particularly) come off as the ‘bad guys’. The former SAS agents are all old, stuffy, tea-sipping Brits who sit around a mahogany table saying, ‘Right-o’ throughout most of the movie, the SAS targets are all unsavory characters, and Spike comes off as nothing more than a sleazy-looking, shadowy drifter. Danny, meanwhile, has a cutie-pie back home, rugged good looks, and in the first five minutes we also find out that, dammit, he has a heart.
And so, halfway through the movie you might wake up and realize, hey– I’m rooting for Jason Statham to methodically take out some of the world’s most elite and most respected soldiers, who may or may not have killed a sheik’s sons (we’re led to believe it was nothing but ruthless murder. Really?)
Taking that out of the equation, first-time director Gary McKendry does a nice job putting together a pretty slick action movie. It ends up feeling about 20 minutes too long, but I’ll blame that on first-time screenwriter Gary McKendry, who, along with his novice co-writer Matt Sherring, is responsible for drivel like, “Killing’s easy. Living with it is the hard part.”
Statham and Owen are both up to the task as guys who do nothing but shoot people and beat people up. I think it’s about time, though, to officially declare DeNiro ‘missing in action’. I’m not sure where the guy from Taxi Driver, The Untouchables, and Heat went, but if you see him, tell him we miss him…
…and that he’s better than this.
@popcollin is the resident movie critic at Essex Cinemas in Essex, VT, and Cumberland 12 in Plattsburgh, NY.