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Killer Elite (2011)

September 24, 2011

written by: Matt Shering & GaryMcKendry (script) and Ranulph Fiennes (story)
produced by: Michael Boughen, Tony Winley, Steve Chasman & Sigurjón Sighvatsson
directed by: Gary McKendry
rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity
runtime: 105 min.
U.S. release date: September 23, 2011
The trailer for “Killer Elite” was thrown together to attract action junkies. In it you’ll find a bloodied Jason Statham jumping out of a window while tied to a chair, a silly-looking mustachioed Clive Owen spewing threats, and a weary-looking Robert DeNiro cracking wise. Like so many other trailers, it’s also meant to show the “best of” scenes from a movie, while misleading viewers with its “Rock You Like a Hurricane” promise. If that doesn’t cut it, there’s also a poster with the three actors posing with guns and sunglasses, as the tagline reads, “May the Best Man Live”,  as if we’re about to see a game. Well, if  the object of the game is to provide a completely convoluted and incomprehensible story, than this movie is a clear winner.
After getting injured in a botched mission, former special-ops agent Danny Bryce ( a predictably dour Jason Statham) proclaims that he is done with killing. He tucks himself away in the Australian countryside with a requisite hottie (played by Yvonne Strahovski) to keep him company. When he gets a message that his mentor and former partner, Hunter (a scruffy Robert DeNiro), is being held hostage by an elderly Omani sheik out to get revenge on the British assassins who killed all but one of his sons, Danny is motivated to get back in the game. 
He flies out to the Middle East and meets with a mysterious man with connections, known only as The Agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who arranges Danny a meeting with the sheik. The sheik offers to let Hunter go only if Danny hunts down and kill those responsible for killing off his sons. But don’t just kill them, record them confessing what they did as well. Danny isn’t thrilled by this at all, but has no choice and knows he’ll need help. He assembles a team, primarily his friends, Davies (Dominic Purcell, who gives the most entertaining performance of the film) a Welsh loudmouth, and the unpredictable Meier (Aden Young), neither of whom share Danny’s disdain for killing. 
It doesn’t take long for their activity to attract the attention of a former British SAS agent named Spike (Clive Owen, I’m not kidding he’s fittingly named after a bulldog), who works for a clandestine organization called The Feather Men, consisting of crotchety old men. Spike informs his superiors that specific former agents have been targeted and that action must be taken. Knowing next to nothing about Danny and his gang, Spike pools his own resources as he embarks on a deadly globetrotting pursuit to protect the reputation and political aspirations of his employers. 
The story, like so many nowadays,  is allegedly “based on a true story” (as the poster and opening tells us), as if that’ll get us hooked right away. But studios and filmmakers have forgotten (or don’t care) that we see such a proclamation all the time. Just tell the story and tell it well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here. 
Two first-timers, screenwriter Matt Shering and director Gary McKendry (who also co-wrote and is giving his feature-length debut), have adapted a 1991 novel by Ranulph Fiennes called The Feather Men. Their efforts don’t fare so well, delivering a mediocre movie. McKendry serves up some decent action sequences that have us forgetting about any historical accuracy, and although there is plenty of killing, what really kills this movie is the awful screenplay. Their script is littered with rote exposition delivered with lazy overacting and exhibits some of the most overused clichéd lines ever stuffed into one film. 
Allow me to share some examples of  dialogue in “Killer Elite”,  which we have heard in just about every film since the dawn of motion pictures. Here we go….when Danny declares, “I’m down with killing, “ he’s told, “Maybe killing isn’t done with you.” Really? Statham and Owen have a pretty intense fist fight in a hospital, but then we also get a line from Owen’s Spike, “You can’t run from who you are”, which is then answered with Danny’s clever retort, “That’s not what I am; that’s what I’ve done.”  Ugh. But the best is yet to come. At the end of the film, Hunter (duh, of course he’s rescued) is reteamed with Danny and they confront Spike in the desert, where we Danny asks him, “You just don’t get it, do you?”, which is a line that has been used ad nauseam in every genre of film. 
So, way to go writers! You’ve managed to copy and paste together a screenplay that is painfully and entirely unoriginal. No amount of park-your-brain action should be expected to make up for such atrocious writing. The only thing left to do with such a hackneyed disaster is to use it as a drinking game of clichés. 

When I heard the title of this movie, I was actually hoping it would be a modern-day remake of a seldom-seen 1975 Sam Peckinpah movie called “The Killer Elite” with James Caan and Robert Duvall. That movie has some common elements with this one, like a secret organization and two experienced killers, but that’s about it. Which is fine since the Peckinpah film is quite dated, but it nevertheless is a pretty cool film (it even has Burt Young and Mako) and is much more interesting than this overwrought, zigzagged mess.  Statham and Owen would’ve fit well into the roles that Caan and Duvall played, as two assassins who were once friends, in a story that involves double-cross and bone-breaking action. 
Alas, this movie does no favors for Statham and Owen, but I must say, I was surprisingly impressed with DeNiro’s work. He has hardly any screen time, but when he’s there he delivers a convincing balance of intensity and throw-away comedy. He plays his character like he has a history, instead of just a stereotype with a gun. One scene where DeNiro’s character takes out two a couple of guys in a subway was deservedly received with a positive response from the audience I was with. While he’s not giving much to work with, he still manages to be one of the more interesting characters in the movie. Considering the crappy movies DeNiro has been in over the years, it’s nice to see him kick butt in a role again. 
“Killer Elite” doesn’t live up to its name. It is certainly not “Killer”,  nor is it “Elite”.  As it is, it might be worth your time in a year or two, when it shows up on cable. After all, if you wind up falling asleep, you won’t be too disappointed.

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