Speaking to colleagues that had already seen Killer Elite, I was told to lower my expectations. I was told that, despite the promising trailers and impressive cast, it’s little more than another routine Jason Statham movie and only if I approached it with that in mind would there be a chance of me finding enjoyment in it. Having now seen it, I’m not so sure any mindset would have made it work. It’s not terrible, but it is a slow, plodding watch. Its admittedly impressive action scenes provide the occasional burst of entertainment, but it’s the stuff surrounding them that doesn’t work.
The film is based on a supposed true story (though that claim has been disputed) detailed in Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ book, The Feather Men. In it, Danny (Jason Statham), an ex-hitman who has retired from killing, is, you guessed it, pulled back in for one last job. His old partner, Hunter (Robert De Niro), is being held captive by a Dubai sheikh who will only release him if Danny kills the men who killed his son. The targets are members of the British Special Air Service, which makes killing them very dangerous, but Danny decides he must make an attempt nevertheless. However, a group of vigilante SAS members, led by Spike (Clive Owen), is determined to protect their comrades at whatever cost, which means getting to Danny before he gets to them.
Killer Elite begins with a bang, opening with an exciting and violent, but not over-the-top, action scene that demonstrates the expertise of Danny and Hunter, showing them as professionals who approach their targets in an intelligent, calculated way. It works as a set-up for future scenes, so when Danny is later able to somehow elude capture and death after finding himself in a number of sticky situations, we’ll be able to buy it. It’s an action scene with meaning, but, unfortunately, it’s the only one. The film follows this up with a scene of little consequence—one that exists solely to please the action fans in the theater—an attempted breakout that is predetermined to fail because, as most viewers will be able to realize, there is no movie if Hunter escapes.
Then it hits a lull. Danny goes about finding and eliminating his targets, but a sense of urgency is missing; it’s easy to forget why he’s even doing it. He runs into the men, all of whom have names and faces, but might as well not, he makes them disappear and that’s that. The problem is the targets are integral to the story, but are too often passed over in favor of a tired cat-and-mouse chase between Danny and Spike, similar to that of a Bourne movie, only boring. We are supposed to accept their demises, but their personalities and motivations needed expansion for that to happen.
Killer Elite is not a movie to bother with details. It worries not about how it gets from scene to scene, just as long as it keeps on moving. At one point, Danny decides he needs to score a lethal drug to administer to the next target so as to make it look like an accident. The next thing you know, he’s in a doctors scrub signing off for it, but how did he manage that? This film doesn’t care. It even goes so far as to set itself in 1980, but skimps on the details. Aside from some high riding shorts and older model cars sitting in the streets, the time period is indistinguishable from today.
To make itself even less interesting than it already is, Killer Elite throws in an underdeveloped love story between Danny and Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), told mostly through flashbacks because, one can only assume, the filmmakers couldn’t figure out a smoother way to fit it into the story. The romance exists only as a means to end, to flip our perception of Danny from a cold-blooded killer to a hero. It doesn’t work because the film is trying to be something it’s not. It works best when it pits the men on the poster against each other, not bogging itself down in trite courtships, but even that proves to be a lie. While it’s certainly fun watching Statham and Owen go at it, De Niro is barely a presence thanks to his incarceration, despite his prominence in the marketing. Because of these things and many more, Killer Elite is not what you expect, and it isn’t good enough to make up for it.
Killer Elite receives 2/5