Jason Statham does action-hero well. It’s usually the script that fails him. And that’s no different here in “Killer Elite.”
Jason Statham is an action star and he knows it. His resume is dotted with hit men, professional assassins, law enforcers, criminals – all characters that pack a lot heat. Just take a look at Statham’s past movie posters and count how many times he appears with a weapon. Not that that’s a bad thing; Statham does action-hero well. It’s usually the script that fails him. And that’s no different here in “Killer Elite.”
In his feature debut, Gary McKendry directs from a script he co-wrote with another newcomer, Matt Sherring. The script, adapted from the Ranulph Fiennes novel “The Feather Men,” is ridiculously predictable and does a disservice to the terrific actors assembled to spew platitudes such as “the killing is easy; living with it is the hard part.”
Undeniably handsome, Statham has done so many of these cat-and-mouse thrillers that all I have to say is “Statham flick” and you’ll know that there’s a troubled mentor (Robert De Niro), a love interest (Yvonne Strahovski), shady but sort-of kooky partners in crime (Dominic Purcell and Aiden Young) and a formidable foe to square off against in Clive Owen. In Statham’s Danny, McKendry and Sherring have created a killing machine with a conscience – he won’t murder in front of kids or family. A killer with a heart of gold.
When we catch up with Statham’s Danny (the best killer in the business, naturally), he’s being coaxed out of retirement for One Last Job. A dying sheikh of a tribe in Oman has locked up Danny’s mentor – Hunter (De Niro) – to use him as bait to do his dirty work. Showing he can still wield assault weapons and land blows to the head at age 68, De Niro plays a solid smaller role, as he did in this spring’s “Limitless.” Danny’s mission is to identify and kill the retired British soldiers, members of the elite Special Air Service, who murdered his three sons decades ago during his country’s civil wars.
The action oscillates between the Arabian Peninsula, London, Paris and the Outback. The pace is quick and the action is loud and violent – just like it’s supposed to be. There’s some cool stunts, fights and cringe-worthy killings. But ultimately, the script relies on too many implausible moments and plot contrivances. In fact, it all feels like a big-screen episode of “24” with Statham playing a version of Jack Bauer. Things just fall into place too easily and any twists can be seen coming four scenes away.
In another layer to the plot, there’s a secret military society that employs Owen’s troubled Spike to unwittingly maintain England’s favorable consideration for the sheikh’s oil. An ex-SAS soldier injured in battle, Spike has his own agenda for going against Danny.
Too bad there’s not more focus on them. But, there’s already too much else going on. The script spends far too much time on minutia and expository dialogue. Character development is an afterthought.
In the end, the filmmakers are ambitious but have simply bitten off more than they can chew. However, they were diligent enough to set up a sequel.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com.
KILLER ELITE (R for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity.) Cast includes Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. 2 stars out of 4.