I was slightly disappointed to find out that Killer Elite was not a remake of Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite from 1975. Once I swallowed that, I was pleased to find out Killer Elite is adapted from a book and not a video game, though I wish the style of the movie would have made that more obvious. It’s typically not a recipe for success when you list the three best things about a movie and one of them is Clive Owen’s mustache. Being fair, it is a pretty awesome mustache.
It is 1980 and assassin Danny (Jason Statham) must come out of retirement to rescue an old pal Hunter (Robert DeNiro) who is being held hostage by an Arabian sheik. The sheik’s sons were murdered by British operatives during the controversial Oman War. The sheik wants Danny to find the retired operatives, film them confessing and then kill them or else Hunter gets the boot. Danny starts pursuing his charges and becomes pursued himself by Spike (Clive Owen and a resplendent Chevron mustache) who is protecting the former agents. A lot of gun play and chases occur and then it’s over and you’ve forgotten about it.
It’s not that Killer Elite is a terrible movie; it tells the story with competency and has adequate performances and is told with a certain amount of style, but there’s not a lot of energy or creativity behind it. Just look at the previous sentence: “competency,” “adequate,” “a certain amount of style,” that’s pretty much bare-minimum stuff; it’s not far from “meets the requirement of being a movie.” Let me throw out another toe-tapping adjective: “pedestrian.” I’ve seen everything in Killer Elite before; the professional who wants to quit the life but can’t, his equal forced to hunt him down, his beautiful girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) introduced when the plot requires extra tension. None of it is done with much flair except in a few passages of dialogue but even they don’t last long enough. When Danny is recruiting a team to take down the ex-agents, he comes across Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young), two roughnecks who give each other the business in this delightful exchange. “Would you like a lolly?” Meier mocks Davies. “I’d love a lolly?” Davies replies. “Strawberry or Fuck You?” Meier inquires. Sadly, Statham cuts them off before they can discuss the specifics of a Fuck You-flavored lollipop.
The movie as a whole adds up to very little so I’m going to try to come up with a few individual aspects that might make someone want to see it. It’s allegedly based on fact. This does nothing for me personally but I know many people become much more engaged if a movie is “true.” Not to get high-brow but I find all movies to be true, good ones at least; it’s perfectly irrelevant if the plot was inspired by true events. Wait, I’m not doing a very good job on selling the interest, am I? Well, Jason Statham and Clive Owen bring their usual intensity. I know both can be in good movies because I’ve seen them, but they sure put out a lot of drivel. There’s very little to separate Killer Elite from The International, Duplicity, The Mechanic,or Crank. In fact, I can see them all smushed together at the bottom of the Wal-Mart $5 dollar bin. DeNiro is phoning it in, but phoned-in DeNiro is better than a lot of actors on their best day.
This could have been a good thriller but the movie doesn’t take the time to establish its set-pieces before they occur. Each of Danny’s hits are supposed to be made to look like an accident and one of the movie’s moments most rife for tension comes when the team tries to manufacture a car accident to take care of an ex-agent. The problem is we aren’t told of the plan beforehand so we can’t feel suspense when things aren’t going right. It’s a wasted opportunity. Furthermore, the editing is bizarre. It cuts out a little too much. A man will run up stairs and a couple of his steps will get edited out. Or he’ll pick up a phone and the moment between when he grabs the receiver and puts it to his ear is removed. They aren’t noticeable enough to be full jump-cuts, they’re almost not noticeable at all. They don’t achieve a kind of breathless momentum, they’re just irritating.
Still, Killer Elite has a good story and its action sequences are well done. Most movies are like this one, not really good but not very bad. They have a word for that: average. Most movies are less aggressively average.