When The Killer Elite, Gary McKendry's directorial debut, starts off we meet an assassin named Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) and his partner Hunter (Robert De Niro) in the middle of a job that goes wrong - there was a kid in the car along with their intended target. Though the kid doesn't get killed, this is enough to send Danny into early retirement: he wants out of the game. When Hunter winds up being held captive in Oman for taking six million for a job he never carried out, however, Danny soon finds he can't stay away and while his initial attempt to save Hunter fails, he's not an easy man to stop.
As Danny zips around Oman doing his thing, he winds up coming into contact with a Sheikh angry over the way his country has been treated which sets into a motion a conspiracy of sorts involving the SAS and a covert military organization lead by a man named Spike (Clive Owen) that will send Danny globetrotting from continent to continent where he and Hunter find themselves to be the targets in a fight for their lives.
Considering the talent involved in this film, it really should have been a great picture and it's disappointing to report that it's not really much more than a typical action film, the kind that Statham has now been ridiculously typecast for. Do we really need him to play another Bond-ish assassin? Didn't he just do this in The Mechanic (which was a much better picture than this one)? Granted, the guy's got screen presence to spare and is as cool as they come but wouldn't it be nice, just for once, to see him play something a little different? That doesn't happen here. This leaves it to Denier and Owen to make this one interesting, and sadly, neither is able to do that. De Niro continues to run his once sterling career into mediocrity with his portrayal of Hunter in this film. While once indisputably one of the greatest things to come out of Hollywood in the last few decades, he's so far removed from the greatness of the movies he made with Scorsese that his work here almost seems like some sort of strange joke. Owen, at least, delivers some decent work here and the film is at its best when he and Statham are at odds with one another. Here the movie does at least offer up some food for thought as the two sides essentially abide by their own moral codes of right and wrong, both killers and both technically 'bad guys' though each trying to do the right thing.
The film does offer up some decent action set pieces. The opening scene where Statham and De Niro make the hit is tense and exciting, with Statham rushing headfirst towards the car with his target in it and De Niro backing him up with a machine gun. On a visual level the movie looks very cool, it's got lots of style and its slick cinematography captures the firefights and combat scenes very effectively. A romantic subplot between Danny and a beautiful woman named Anne (Yvonne Strahovski) is crammed into the movie for no obvious reason other than for the simple point of just having a romantic subplot in the film and the secret military society angle isn't exploited nearly as well as it could have been but stuff does blow up nicely here. Sadly, that's all the movie really offers, however, just a few cursory cheap thrills and some cool fight scenes. Other than that, it seems content to coast off of its casting and its style rather than exploit the more interesting elements of the story being told here. The end result is a movie that could have been a thinking man's action film but is instead a popcorn picture - fluffy and easy to deal with, but offering no real substance.
The Killer Elite looks great on Blu-ray presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in its 2.40.1 widescreen aspect ratio. While the look of the film tends to favor slightly bleached out colors at times, this is reference quality stuff - every pore on every actors face is visible, you can almost count the stubble hairs on Statham's face if you want, while texture is evident and constant throughout. There are no issues with dirt, debris or damage of any kind and the image is spotless from start to finish. Black levels are rich and deep and shadow detail is uniformly strong even if there is some very minor crush in a few scenes that you might spot if you're looking for such things. Other than that, however, this is a very impressive effort free of any obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues.
The only audio option for the movie is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, though optional subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish. As you'd expect from the nature of the film, this is a pretty aggressive mix - you'll notice this right away when the car explodes and tumbles down the road as the effects fly right past you from the front to the rear and really pull you into the moment. Dialogue stays clean and clear and the score is well mixed, but it's the sound effects that'll make you stand up and take notice. Gunshots pack loads of punch and have a nice low end to them, explosions rumble through the movie nicely and car tires screech with violent and aggressive tension. Though there are some scenes where some noticeably sloppy ADR work is painfully obvious, this is otherwise a very strong effort in the sound department - the movie sounds fantastic on Blu-ray.
Extras are remarkably sparse on this release - really, there's only ten minutes of deleted scenes here, that's about it. They add a little bit to the story but otherwise don't amount to much. Aside from that, look for menus, chapter stops, D-Box encoding, Blu-ray Live functionality, a digital copy and a DVD copy - but none of this offers any insight into the movie itself, which is generally what we want out of supplements, isn't it?
The Killer Elite should have been a lot more interesting than it is, but unfortunately it's predictable, it suffers from pacing problems and it relies more on action movie clichés than on solid performances or memorable set pieces. That said, it's passably entertaining even if it should have been more than that. Universal's Blu-ray release is pretty lame in the extras department but it does offer a superb audio and video presentation. Statham devotees will probably enjoy this one more than others - if you don't fall into that camp, rent it. You could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.