Supposedly based on a true story, director Gary McKendry’s “Killer Elite” boasts a terrific premise. After a close call involving a child, Danny (Jason Statham) decides that it’s time to get out of the elite assassin-for-hire business. After a year of bliss in the wilds of Australia with a lovely blond lovely and innocent enough to save any man’s soul , Danny’s friend and mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is kidnapped, and the ransom is a job. An Omani sheik promises to execute Hunter unless Danny avenges the death of the sheik’s three sons at the hands of a trio of British SAS officers. The sheik not only wants the three deadly and highly-skilled SAS agents killed, he wants them to confess to their crimes on tape. In exchange, Hunter will be freed, carrying six million in cash as a bonus.
Danny’s also up against the clock. He has to finish the job before the aged and ailing sheik dies, so he quickly assembles a team of fellow mercenaries to track down the three men and figure out a way to not only get them to confess but also to make their deaths look like an accident. The hitch in the plan is Spike Logan (Clive Owen), the leader of a secret organization of former SAS-types who have banded together to protect themselves from outside forces… such as Danny.
The set-up is solid; in fact, it’s inspired — not only in its simplicity but in making the audience understand immediately both the stakes and how difficult the mission will be. The problem is the execution, which is nowhere near as exciting or clever as you anticipate. The killing of these SAS agents is absurdly easy, as is extracting their confessions. Once the second act kicks in, you sit back expecting the script to take us into the fascinating details of how assassins who work at the highest level operate. Unfortunately, nothing that follows even rises to the level of a standard “Mission: Impossible” episode.
De Niro looks good in the role of a grizzled mercenary unwilling to give into age, but he’s barely in the movie. Statham, a genuinely charismatic action star who needs to pick better scripts, is perfectly capable of carrying a film on his own, but all he’s given here is a choppy plot disguised as an international thriller, plus a few unexciting action sequences filmed with the shaky-cam and edited for maximum confusion.
Naturally, the politics are dumb and clichéd. Western imperialists. Oil. Yawn.
If you’re looking for brain candy, a couple of legitimately good action scenes (both take place in the first 30 minutes), and to bask in the charisma of the stars, you could do worse than “Killer Elite.” But when you consider the premise and the actors they had to work with, both the director and screenwriter could and should have done a lot better.
“Killer Elite” is available at Amazon.com.