Promotional materials tout Killer Elite (which is not a remake of the 1975 Sam Peckinpah film of the same name) as a “match made in tough guy heaven”: Jason Statham leads a team of mercenaries on a mission to assassinate British military targets in order to save his mentor, played by Robert De Niro; on their trail is a secret society of vigilantes headed by a mustachioed Clive Owen.
Director Gary McKendry’s film is based on British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes’ controversial 1991 novel The Feather Men, which – fictional or not – lends the movie a little more authenticity than the average Jason Statham vehicle.
Don’t get me wrong – this is still fairly silly stuff – but by Statham standards of believability this ranks several notches above the Crank and Transporter films and just slightly below The Bank Job.
Statham is Danny, an elite assassin who, in the film’s opening sequence, wipes out a group of unidentified targets but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger on a pre-teen boy. He wants out of the killing game, and retires to an unnamed rural locale from his past to build a house and strike up a romance with pretty Anne (Yvonne Strahovski).
Of course, he’s drawn back in. In Oman, Danny’s mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) has attempted to bail out on a dying sheik’s revenge contract and been taken hostage in return.
In order to free him, Danny must assassinate three former members of the British SAS who were responsible for the deaths of the sheik’s sons. The catch: the targets must first confess to their crimes, and their murders must look like accidents.
The assassinations, accomplished with the help of Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young), don’t go unnoticed, and soon The Feather Men – a secret society of SAS agents that protect their own – are on the trail, headed by a grim Spike (Owen, sporting a stache that would make many an era pornstar jealous).
In most respects, Killer Elite does feel like a routine Statham picture; don’t be thrown by the presence of Owen and De Niro – this is the full-throttle Statham experience. But the kinetic action scenes – in particular, a hand to hand fight between Statham and Owen and a sequence in which Statham, bound to a chair, still manages to make quick work of two armed men – do deliver the goods.
Best of all: the action scenes are handled professionally. Especially the fight scenes, which are hyper-kinetic but still shot and edited in such a way that the audience can actually follow the action.
Opulent early-1980s atmosphere, including an overindulgence of period facial hair, helps give the film some personality. A heavy-handed romantic subplot tends to drag down the midsection.
The stars turn in workmanlike performances; Statham is Statham, De Niro is limited to a handful of scenes, and Owen, perhaps cast against type, has some fun. But the best work is done by the supporting cast, particularly by Purcell and Young as Statham’s associates.