- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Open Road Films
Reviewed by Bob Westal
haven’t read it, but I gather that author-adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes' avowedly neither-fact-nor-fiction bestseller, “The Feather Men,” tells of a series of alleged assassinations of former members of British special forces. As per Fiennes, the killings were in revenge for the UK's involvement in a scandalous war for oil waged in the Arabian nation of Oman during the late 1970s. Fiennes further describes how other secret ops veterans, including the author himself, were supposedly rescued by a shadowy, illegal group. Comprised of ex-special forces members, these mysterious and possibly non-existent operatives were nicknamed "feather men." The idea being that they had a somewhat light touch in their vigilante escapades.
If you've seen a few action thrillers, I'm sure you can imagine several ways "Killer Elite" could be told. It could be a story of patriots misused by their country and targeted by foreigners, with no one to protect them but a group of morally ambiguous zealots. It could also be the story of men fiercely dedicated to protecting their former comrades in arms from professional killers, even if the people sending those killers might have a reasonable gripe. This feature debut from Irish director Gary McKendry, however, tells its story not from the point of view of Fiennes or the victims, nor from the perspective of their self-appointed protectors, but from the viewpoint of the assassins. Whatever could be said of the doings of special forces members, at least their involvement would have been motivated by duty. The mercenaries who were supposedly killing them got involved in the dirty war business for a paycheck.
Of course, even paid assassins have their reasons, especially when they're played by beloved box office draws. Set in 1980, "Killer Elite” stars Jason Statham as Danny Bryce. Danny is an honorable paid murderer traumatized by the presence of a child at the scene of a hit gone spectacularly wrong. The debacle convinces him that being a killer, even an elite one, isn't the best career path for a decent bloke. Also, he's fallen for the beautiful Anne (Yvonne Strahovski of "Chuck") and that seems to be bringing out his peaceful side. Still, try as he might to get out, his violent past draws Danny right back in. It seems he must perform, yes, one last job.
A vengeance-seeking Arab sheik (Rodney Afif) is holding Danny's lovably amoral ex-partner, Hunter (Robert De Niro). The only way to rescue his friend: eliminate a cadre of British soldiers who killed three of the sheik's sons a few years earlier. He doesn't know it yet, but the most serious obstacle facing Danny is the aforementioned feather men, as personified by a group of older gents in business suits and a tough-as-nails, partially blinded operative named Spike (Clive Owen).
"Killer Elite" is mostly dead in the water from the moment the plot kicks in. It's a setup that is both bass ackwards and kind of gutless, as if the main priority was to deodorize the character played by Jason Statham. This is a movie that feels terminally afraid to commit to anything remotely unpleasant or controversial while still wanting to be an ultra-macho badass fiesta. On the other hand, directing newcomer Gary McKendry at least knows how to cook up an action scene without a lot of CGI or herky-jerky camera work. It's a blessing these days.
Also nice is an unfussy comic/action performance by Robert De Niro, but that's as good as "Killer Elite" gets, acting-wise. In their cat-and-mouse roles, Jason Statham and Clive Owen, both major talents in their own ways, are never allowed to engage us. Wearing a slightly dorky 80s mustache, Owen's tamped-down super-patriot could be an ambiguous heroic lead in a better film and he seems to know it. Even so, poor Spike is mainly relegated to looking either grim or frustrated and only shines in the film's later action set pieces. Statham, who I generally enjoy watching, is unable to rise above his flavor-free role as Danny. His romantic scenes with Yvonne Strahovski play as forced attempts to humanize his character and not much else. When plot machinations add De Niro as a fatherly third wheel to the Statham-Strahovski pairing, the energy level increases perceptibly.
It's mostly the later action scenes in "Killer Elite" that keep the movie from being a complete loss after a tedious first two-thirds. Jason Statham's gift for stunt work shows itself to good effect and Owen more than holds up his end in several fight scenes. For his part, Robert De Niro – who'll be turning 70 next year – keeps up nicely. It's nevertheless safe to assume that all the stars benefit greatly from the work of a crack stunt team and editor John Gilbert, whose resume includes no less daunting an editorial challenge than "The Fellowship of the Ring."
With a screenplay credited to first-timer Matt Sherring and weighed down by too much lame dialogue passing off very old jokes in place of wit, the Australian-produced "Killer Elite" had the potential to be a really interesting, action-heavy political thriller. Sadly, it never really tries to be anything more than another vehicle for Jason Statham. It takes two-thirds of the movie for "Killer Elite" to half come alive, even on that somewhat rudimentary level. It's too little, way too late.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Universal's Blu-ray release of "Killer Elite" boasts just under 10 minutes of deleted scenes... and that's it. No audio commentary, no making-of featurette, no cast and crew interviews – nothing. (Sorry folks, but a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy don't count as special features.) Although it's nice to see a little more from Clive Owen, this is a pretty embarassing display for a film that isn't quite as bad as a lot of people made it sound.