By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
“Killing’s easy. Living with it is the hard part.”
Killer Elite — which has nothing to do with the 1975 Sam Peckinpah-directed action thriller, The Killer Elite except for its title and genre — is a gritty action thriller about an assassin who has retired after a crisis of conscience.
Jason Statham stars as highly skilled mercenary Danny Bryce, a retired Navy SEAL who is then summoned out of retirement in Australia in 1980 to rescue his mentor, Hunter, a veteran soldier-of-fortune played by Robert De Niro who had previously saved Bryce’s life and has been kidnapped by an exiled, revenge-seeking Dubai sheik.
The sheik demands that Bryce hunt down and kill the three former Special Air Service (SAS) officers responsible for the deaths of his three sons. So Danny must erase three retired operatives in varying ways that are made to look accidental and must get recorded confessions from them before he does them in.
Clive Owen plays one-eyed Spike, a former SAS officer and rogue agent who’s now the head of a shadowy vigilante group called “The Feather Men,” which is dedicated to protecting former SAS officers.
The debuting director, Gary McKendry, works from a choppy, unnecessarily confusing script that he co-wrote with Matt Sherring that’s based on the 1991 novel, The Feather Men, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes — a former SAS officer and the third cousin of actor Ralph Fiennes, and who figures in the plot at one point — which was allegedly and controversially based on actual events.
True or not, the events depicted register as highly illogical and implausible and not at all engaging. The car chases, gunfights and combat scenes are executed with technical proficiency, but the thematic connective tissue falls far short of being engrossing, barely holding our attention between action flare-ups and conjuring only minimal tension and suspense.
The makers seem to think that gunfire exchanges represent the height of drama. They couldn’t be more wrong.
As for the rooting interest aspect of the film, it’s muddy at best. After all, Statham and De Niro (ostensibly the “heroes” here) are the characters whose methodical assassination preparations we follow. Yet they are hit men hired to kill ex-SAS officers who were merely performing their assigned duties. It’s Owen’s Spike who really should be the audience’s heroic protagonist.
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In other words, either there are no good guys or all of them qualify. Not that any of that matters anyway, because such concerns get buried under the avalanche of furious but monumentally uninteresting action set pieces.
Statham continues to stick to what he’s good at (and you can call it acting if you want) and veteran De Niro looks like he’s slumming. As for Owen, he shows up late and doesn’t exactly do any thespian stretching, but at least he makes an impression.
So we’ll eliminate 1-1/2 stars out of 4 for the indifferent, testosterone-rich period thriller, Killer Elite, a standard-issue actioner that lives up to only the first of the two words in its title.