Let’s get this out of the way now: Killer Elite is not high art. Though veiled under the pretense of a globe-trotting spy thriller, the movie is basically an excuse to watch attractive men beat the heck out of each other.
And that’s fine. In fact, it’s pretty fun.
The movie follows mercenary Danny (Jason Statham: Gnomeo & Juliet) as he leaves the gun-for-hire business and tries to start over after nearly killing a child on his last job.
Just when he thought he was out, Danny is forced to pick up his gun one last time. His mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro: Limitless), is captured by an angry sheik on a vendetta against the British SAS, which killed three of his sons.
Danny picks up his guns, puts his mercenary team back together and starts hunting.
But the SAS isn’t your typical mark. The former soldiers are guarded by a group with the somewhat laughable name of the Feather Men. Lead Feather Man Spike (Clive Owen: Trust) is a dogged former SAS officer determined to kill Danny and abort his mission.
Killer Elite could have been an epic match between Statham and Owen, but the plot falters under delusions of grandeur. One of the missteps the movie makes is over-estimating the range of its leading man.
Statham is a fantastic action star, with a permanent glower and physicality that makes his stunt work believable. He is not, however, much for emotions. Supposedly wracked with guilt over nearly killing that kid, Statham looks like he’s got digestive issues through most of the film.
Thankfully, only Statham seems to take this movie too seriously.
De Niro as a washed up mercenary looks livelier than he has in years, fighting with knives and quipping with aplomb. It’s a treat to see one of America’s great talents enjoying himself on screen. See what happens when you get him away from Ben Stiller?
Owen has the thankless role of vague and undefined baddie. You don’t know why Spike is so hateful, but he means business. Still, like De Niro, Owen seems so excited during his fight scenes that his energy becomes infectious.
A supporting turn by Dominic Purcell (Straw Dogs) as a lascivious operative in Danny’s crew keeps the film from turning too serious.
These bright spots of levity keep the film humming even while Statham pouts.
Killer Elite excels during giant explosions, bloody fights and darkly humorous murders. First-time feature director Gary McKendry knows how to capture the grit and grime of a brawl. At its best, the film is what every action thriller should be: brutal and visceral. At worst, it’s a lesson in why filmmakers should never give Jason Statham a dramatic monologue.
It’s a shame that no one told Statham to just use his fists instead of his words.