As a rule, I tend to enjoy movies that feature Jason Statham being a complete badass. The guy has a weird sort of charisma that typically enables the viewer to forget about the half-assed dialogue and paper-thin plot, and just focus on watching Statham beat the living hell out of everything that moves. When I saw the trailer for Killer Elite, I assumed that I was in for another such experience.
I was wrong, dear reader. I was so very wrong.
It’s the early 1980s, and former assassin Danny Boyce (Statham) is being pulled out of retirement for “one last job,” thus beginning the endless parade of action movie cliches. It seems that his mentor/father figure Hunter (Robert De Niro) is being held hostage by a wealthy but disgraced sheik, who has been exiled for failing to avenge the murders of his three eldest sons at the hands of the SAS. The sheik instructs Danny to track down the three agents responsible and execute them for their crimes, which will enable the sheik and his youngest son to return to their tribe with honor. In return, Hunter will be released, and Danny will be $6 million richer. I’m not entirely sure why the sheik would go to the trouble of kidnapping Hunter in order to force Danny to accept the assignment, and then offer to pay him such a large sum, but whatever.
Danny assembles a team of former colleagues (who are little more than generic espionage archetypes and are almost instantly forgettable) and goes straight to work, but it doesn’t take long before he and his crew attract the attention of The Feathermen (seriously), a secret society of retired SAS agents that operates from the shadows (“our touch is light, that’s why we’re called The Feathermen”), and whose exact function is never explained with any sort of clarity. Top enforcer Spike (Clive Owen) begins looking into Danny and his crew, and an unexpected encounter results in one of the film’s very few high points, a savage brawl in a hospital waiting room that makes excellent use of the physicality of the two leads and showcases just how much punishment one’s face can absorb when adorned with a laughable Tom Selleck mustache.
Shortly after this encounter, Killer Elite careens off the rails into such an incoherent series of backstabs, double- and triple-crosses, and uneasy alliances that it becomes nearly impossible to make any sense of what the hell is going on. The mildly enjoyable action sequences are broken up by long stretches of rapid-fire globetrotting and dialogue-heavy exposition that serves only to confuse the viewer further, and the film also features the obligatory (but completely unnecessary) romance subplot, which seems to exist for no other reason than to give De Niro’s character something to do in the film’s third act, and which accomplishes nothing except to piss me off.
The Feathermen, pulling the strings from a room full of cigar smoke and Geritol, are painted as such cartoonish figures that they lack any sort of real menace and become little more than villainous caricatures, particularly when spouting lines such as “Well, we don’t want to get blood on our pinstripes.” The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better in the dialogue department, and not even Statham can sound cool when muttering such tried-and-true nuggets of wisdom like “Killing is easy, living with it is the hard part.”
And for real, who the hell thought it was a good idea to let Clive Owen wander around in a leather jacket looking like he just stepped off the set of Magnum P.I.? I know it’s supposed to be the 80s, but with that ridiculous mustache there was no chance I was taking his character seriously.
Killer Elite is a colossal mess of a film, one that hasn’t the slightest idea what sort of story it wants to tell, and opts instead to barely tell one at all. The only redeeming qualities are the scenes where Statham is punching, kicking, or shooting something, which unfortunately do not occur nearly often enough to make the film even remotely close to enjoyable.