With Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominic Purcell; Running Time: 105 minutes; Rated R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity); Written by Gary McKendry, Matt Sherring; Directed by Gary McKendry.
First things first. With “Straw Dogs” out last week and “Footloose” and “The Thing” coming up, it has to be noted that in spite of the similarity in title, KILLER ELITE is not a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 film “The Killer Elite.” Instead, it is based on a British novel “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes. You can see why the distributors thought this testosterone-laden action film needed a more muscular title.
While the action scenes are suitably violent and there’s undeniable fun seeing British stars Jason Statham and Clive Owen square off against each other, it also has to be noted that “Killer Elite” is an incoherent mess. You can figure out who is on which side, for the most part, but ultimately this is one group of ex-spies fighting another group of ex-spies, and they all seem a bit loopy. By film’s end, you may not be clear as to what was going on but if you’re an action fan, you’ll certainly have been entertained.
After a prologue where we see Danny (Statham) and Hunter (Robert De Niro) working together, we learn that Danny has since retired, having had his fill of the moral qualms his work keeps throwing at him. Now he’s on his farm in Australia, ready to settle down with Anne (Yvonne Strahovski) when he’s called back into action. It seems Hunter has been kidnapped by an Arab leader who has been shamed for allowing British agents to murder most of his family. To get Hunter free, Danny has to track down and kill the agents, sending proof back to the Middle East.
If you can’t swallow that, then you may as well quit because they’re only getting started. As Danny reluctantly puts a team together to carry out the killings – and rescue Hunter – a secret group of British ex-agents is concerned about their members being killed off. They send Spike (Owen) out to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it. Get it? Danny and Spike are working at cross-purposes because while their individual intents are good, they are both working for corrupt and evil bosses.
So who should we be rooting for? The movie is weighted in Danny’s favor, but ultimately things get so muddled that as various people are killed we have to think whether this is good or bad. Yet director/co-writer Gary McKendry, making his feature debut here, is so focused on the unrelenting action that we don’t get much time to think. Instead we watch Statham and Owen snarl their lines, and look forward to their inevitable confrontations.
This is check-your-brain-at-the-door material, and for action fans it is quite fun to see Statham and Owe put through their paces. De Niro, who has been coasting on his reputation for years now (clearly his heart is not in the movie business anymore) at least seems to be having some fun here. His is a supporting role and he makes the most of it. While it’s a shame that a De Niro picture is no longer an event, at least this isn’t “Little Fockers” or one of his many other forgettable films over the last decade or more.
“Killer Elite” is fast-paced and disposable. For action fans, that will be plenty. For those wanting more, look elsewhere.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.