Based on a true story. By the time Jason Statham is pounding on Clive Owen (sporting a truly retro 'stache) to the tune of "Rock You Like a Hurricane", it's easy to forget the words that open the trailer for Killer Elite. Surely, even if the film is based on a true story (debatable, but probably not), whatever kind of action pyrotechnics lured Statham, Owen, and Robert De Niro together has better things on its agenda than being historically accurate. Sadly, director/co-writer Gary McKendry and co-writer Matt Sherring are interested in exactly that, having crafted a film more interested in warmed-over political intrigue than ass-kicking set to Scorpions tunes.
Statham plays Danny, a former member of Britain's Elite Special Air Service. When his former mentor and close friend Hunter (De Niro) is captured, Danny takes it upon himself to fulfill the conditions of Hunter's release. His mission: kill three government assassins behind the murder of an oil sheikh's son. Enlisting the help of a couple friends (Dominic Purcell, Aden Young), Danny moves to get the job done, only to find his actions have attracted the attention of one of their superiors, Spike (Owen). With the sheikh's death looming (and Hunter's, by extension), the two teams race across Europe, with each target becoming a pawn in the middle of a cat-and-mouse game.
Spike is a member of a powerful group named The Feather Men, which is also the title of the book the film is based on. Regardless of whether or not the book is factual, it's clear that it's more of a detail-oriented political expose than the kind of material Jason Statham usually stars in. Unfortunately, the screenplay takes what sounds complicated and streamlines it until it curdles into cliche after cliche, resulting in a very long 105-minute movie about corruption we don't care about, employed to flesh out uninteresting stock characters. Tensions get high. Things go wrong. Unexpected secrets are revealed. Getaways are cut short. Moral lessons are learned (presumably). Neither writer nor director are capable of trotting out a dramatic moment that hasn't been done a million times before, and a million times better.
Statham's career sprung from his roles in Guy Ritchie's first two films, and frankly, too few of Statham's action roles ever give him anything fun or lighthearted to do, and this is no different. Danny is a dour guy who gets out of the game in the movie's first scene, only to be pulled back in when Hunter is captured. The film introduces a girl (Yvonne Strahovski) in an attempt to create sympathy for Danny, but the role is as one-note as they come, and Strahovski's character has even less nuance. Statham's teammates -- a big-hearted, loyal brute and a sniveling, erudite weasel -- are also boring and predictable. Owen seems to relish his scenes a little more, but there's still nothing for his character to latch onto; endless sequences of him railing aginst his Feather Men superiors in his pursuit of Statham are never interesting.
To make matters worse, Killer Elite is so preoccupied with this material that it has nothing to offer as an action diversion, either. The movie only has two major action setpieces: the one that concludes with Statham fistfighting Owen in a dark hospital room, and the extensive chase scene that eventually spills onto the rooftop, both of which can be seen in the trailer). Since McKendry fails to invigorate anything else in the movie, it's no surprise that these scenes (and other scenes of spy action, in which Statham's team sets up the targets in Owen's) are equally dull. Only Statham and Owen's fight is slightly entertaining, practically bleeding the tiniest bit of satisfaction from seeing the two actors going head-to-head. De Niro also comes out looking alright in a subway encounter, but that doesn't last enough to qualify as an entire sequence.
By the time the movie wheezes to a close, it's hard not to feel duped. The true story is fudged, the action is muddled, and all that's left is a jumble of tired, left-over cinematic refuse. Killer Elite is a miniature perfect storm of mistakes: the wrong director and screenwriter for a project that's been executed incorrectly, advertised as the opposite of what it is. Elite it isn't.
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