'Killer Elite' Review: Statham, De Niro on Autopilot

Jason Statham must have felt the same sense of déjà vu making “Killer Elite” that audiences are bound to experience watching it.

“Elite” plays out like a greatest hits collection for the rugged action hero. He pummels the bad guys, shakes off crippling blows and woos women so nondescript they might as well be department store mannequins.

That “Elite” is based on true events hardly dings the formula, nor does the presence of Clive Owen sporting a mustache his agent should have nixed before the cameras started to roll.

Statham plays Danny, a retired special ops agent turned mercenary who gives up his craft after he nearly kills a child during an assignment. But Danny gets dragged back into the killing business when his mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) is captured by a sheik out for revenge. The sheik’s three sons were dispatched by British forces during the Dhofar Rebellion.

If Danny doesn’t assassinate the British SAS agents responsible for making the Sheik’s family gatherings more intimate Hunter gets it. So Danny assembles his team to meet the sheik’s demands. It won’t be easy, since Danny must coax videotaped confessions out of the targeted agents while making their deaths look like accidents.

Danny and co. seem up to the task, but they didn’t count on facing Spike (Clive Owen),

a British agent working with a shadowy organization that manipulates geopolitical events without getting its hands dirty.

Statham, who must be exhausted playing yet another generic actioner, isn’t give much of a character to play. It’s just Statham on autopilot, a hulking gent we’ve gotten to know in films like “Crank,” “The Mechanic” and “The Transporter.” De Niro flashes a fraction of his charm in a role so nondescript the only identifying trait is his love for his silver wristwatch.

That’s better than anything offered to co-star Yvonne Strahovski of NBC’s “Chuck” fame. She plays Danny’s love interest, the beauty who patiently waits for her man to stop killing long enough to come back home. You’d think Statham would take writer/director Gary McKendry aside and say, “hey, bub, is this the best we can do for her? Her parents are gonna have to see this at some point.”

Owen, a terrific actor who finds himself in lesser parts each year, tries to bring complexity to his quasi-villain role. But all McKendry can do is tell him to smash stuff like an addled rock star every half hour to show what a tough guy he is.

The copious action sequences in “Elite” offer a narrative respite, and a showdown between Statham and Owen should satiate genre fans. The rest of the fistfights and bullet exchanges get the shaky cam treatment, rendering them as background noise in a film that desperately needs a reason to ignore the truckload of clichés cluttering the screenplay.

“Killing’s easy. Living with it, that’s the hard part,” Danny says.

If that doesn’t trigger one’s gag reflex, consider this exchange:

“I’m done with killing,” says Danny. “Maybe killing’s not done with you,” says the agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who sets up Danny’s gigs.

“Killer Elite” might have a kernel of truth burrowed between the opening and closing credits. But the movie plays out like too many modern action movies. It’s a loud, dumb waste of talented actors.

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