Monday, February 13, 2012

Killer Elite (2011)

When the first trailers for Killer Elite (not to be confused with The Killer Elite --- definite articles make a difference, you know) came out, I got a little excited.

Jason Statham, current king of the stupid action movie, co-starring with Clive Owen --- who I loved in the ridiculous Shoot 'Em Up --- and a latter-day Robert DeNiro in a non-comedic role; even if DeNiro mailed in his performance (likely), the other two should make for an awesome action movie, right?  After all, they got the rights to play The Scorpions in the trailer, so this flick should rawk!  At the very least, Killer Elite should be as awesome as this music video for "Rock You Like a Hurricane," right?

Okay, maybe that's a tall order --- after all, it's not like The Stath is going to look surprised while soloing on guitar in the movie --- but Killer Elite had enough good ingredients to make for a good old-fashioned dumb but fun action movie.
Maybe more than dumb, but still fun

For many years, Danny (Jason Statham) was a bad-ass-for-hire.  He worked all over the world, and he usually worked with the same crew: Meier (Aden Young), the tech guy; Davies (Dominic Purcell), the not particularly bright brawn; and Hunter (Robert DeNiro), the brains and Danny's mentor.  When a job went bad in 1980, Danny was wounded and was faced with the immorality of his chosen profession.  So he quit and started renovating a dilapidated property in his hometown in Australia.  There, he lives the simple life and attracts a local beauty, Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), because who wouldn't be attracted to a bald man with no apparent job, engaged in what appears to be a never-ending task?
Women want him, men want to give him firm embraces
A year later, Danny gets a call telling him that Hunter's life is in the balance; if Danny doesn't do a particular job, Hunter will die.  Every time he thinks he's out, they pull him back in, people.  Danny travels to Oman, where Sheikh Amr gives Danny the assignment --- he is to kill three former members of Britain's SAS, who Amr holds responsible for the deaths of three of his sons during the Dhofar Rebellion.  Danny doesn't like it, but he won't allow Hunter to die.  The SAS isn't exactly a bunch of sissies, so Danny has his work cut out for him; luckily, he is being offered millions of dollars for the job, which convinces Meier and Davies to join up on this difficult mission.  There is a catch, though.  The team's clumsy inquiries into the lives of their SAS targets garners the attention of the Feathermen, a group of clandestine former SAS members dedicated to protecting their own with a minimum of publicity.  The Feathermen send their enforcer, Spike (Clive Owen), to make this happen.  So, the stage is set: a group of mercenaries vs. a group of retired, but highly trained, military men.  It loos like a lot of people are going to die to save Robert DeNiro.
They're both getting too old for this shit

Killer Elite seemed to promise that all-too-elusive cinematic beast: the action movie with multiple stars.  When it comes to movies that attempt to balance their action star power, they usually fall into three types: the hopelessly inept in every way (Van Helsing, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever), the "about what you expected because you've seen the primary star's other films" (The Expendables), and --- rarest of all --- the action movie that blends the styles of its lead actors to make something better (or at least dumber) than the sum of their abilities (Tango & Cash, Demolition Man).  Unfortunately, this isn't a movie that makes use of DeNiro's grittiness (or acting ability, for that matter), Statham's physical stunts, and Owen's bastard charm.  No, this is the second type, a typical Jason Statham vehicle with a better supporting cast than he's used to and/or deserves.

The acting, such as it is, isn't bad.  The Stath scowls and does cool things in situations where you or I would probably die.  While the rest of the cast (or at least their costume designers) strove to look like they were from 1981, Stath looked as he always does, just with aviator sunglasses this time.  I think my favorite insight into Stath's character was when he disguised himself to get some information; he put on a lab coat to get some medical info, but didn't wear a wig, or glasses, or a fake nose, or a tie, or a suit, and he certainly didn't shave --- he just put a lab coat on over his street clothes, grabbed some files, and was done.  Who needs a script disguise?  It's only privileged information!  Clive Owen was a decent enemy for Statham at first, but the plot forces his character to start taking things far more personally than would make sense in the circumstances. 
Maybe Stath mentioned the turd on his lip?
Robert DeNiro isn't in a whole lot of the movie, but he's a welcome addition.  He's certainly not great here, but DeNiro can still turn on the charm when he wants to.  Yvonne Strahovski essentially played the personification of Stath's motives, but I thought she was fine.  She certainly could have been far more annoying, anyway.  There are a number of minor supporting cast members, but Dominic Purcell played the largest part.  Purcell isn't the most articulate actor in the world, but what held my fascination with him in Killer Elite was his facial hair; either he has some bizarre beard issues, or his makeup artist had difficulty knowing what sideburns and mustaches should look like.
The description shouldn't begin and end with "greasy"

Killer Elite is the first feature-length film by Gary McKendry; he was nominated for an Oscar for his only other movie, a short film.  McKendry didn't make a bad pic with Killer Elite, it just disappointed me.  I thought the story was told decently and the acting was damn good for what amounts to a typical action movie.  The character relationships were handled far better than most films of this ilk, too.  McKendry didn't do anything too spectacular with this movie, but he was certainly competent.  I really wish he had figured out a better way to explain the Feathermen organization --- he opted to having them explain the purpose of their secret club aloud to each other, because that's what clandestine groups do --- but that's really as dumb as the movie gets.  Unless you count the chair scene, which also falls into the category of as awesome as this movie gets.

Killer Elite isn't a great action movie, but it's a nice change from the last few Statham vehicles I have seen.  It actually has characters and some limited character development!  Shock!  I was hoping for something a little more goofy and fun, but this isn't bad.  But don't buy into that "true story" crap that's tacked on the beginning and end; the book this is based on A) makes the Feathermen the heroes B) was called "factional" by its author and C) has (depending on who you ask) been admitted as a complete fabrication.  So if you see something dumb in this movie, don't rationalize it as "well, it must have happened, because this is a true story."

1 comment:

  1. It's an uneven mix, though it still delivers in fits and starts. However, I just wish they did more with the opportunities of they had of having De Niro, Owen, and Statham in the same film. Nice review.