Friday, September 23, 2011

"Killer Elite" (2011)

Starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro
Written by Matt Sherring
Directed by Gary McKendry
Rated R - Violence, language, nudity
Running Time: 100 Minutes

Is there a more quintessential action star these days than Jason Statham?  I don't think so.  With his gravely voice, scruffy beard growth and steely gaze, the man appears in action flick after action flick, often driving fast cars and making quick work of various international thugs.  In "Killer Elite," he's back at it again, this time flanked by the legendary Robert De Niro and running up against Clive Owen.

Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) and his partner Hunter (Robert De Niro) begin the film in Mexico in 1980.  They are laying a trap to assassinate someone, but when Danny pulls the trigger he discovers a child in the car and decides he'll never kill again.  A year later, he receives a package informing him that Hunter has been taken prisoner by an exiled Sheik.  The Sheik wants revenge on several British SAS officers who killed his three sons, and he wants Danny to be the one to do it. 

Danny gathers his old associates Davies (Dominic Purcell) and Meier (Aden Young) and goes after the SAS agents.  This gathers the attention of a shadowy group of former SAS men called the Feather Men, now powerful bankers and lawyers, who employ the services of Spike (Clive Owen) to foil Danny's plans.  As Danny gets closer and closer to his goals, the Feather Men become anxious that their organization will be exposed, and begin to clamp down on Spike, but Spike won't have it.  Things grow further complicated when The Agent (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) sets his sites on Danny's girlfriend Annie (Yvonne Strahovski) to make sure that Danny goes through with the mission.

"Killer Elite" features an overly-convoluted plot, lots of thick British accents, and plenty of gunfire and head-butts to go around.  It's a bit slower paced than I expected, but when the action does come around, it doesn't disappoint.  Overall, though, "Killer Elite" is another disposable Statham action vehicle.  The presence of De Niro and Owen gives things a bit more gravitas, and Dominic Purcell's Davies character is a whole lot of fun, but "Killer Elite" is not really going to wow anyone.

Statham has some real presence, and he's certainly more than capable of doing all the fights and stunts required of him.  But he's also an actor who very rarely stretches himself.  Here, he does the same old thing he always does, so if you're a fan of that, you know just what to expect and you won't be disappointed. If you're expecting "Killer Elite" to be more than the sum of its obvious parts, don't bother.  The film has a few opportunities for Statham to do more, but, as always, he acts just as intensely "action-man" around his girlfriend as he does when he's about to put the beat-down on some thugs.  Why, then, are these women so attracted to him?  I don't know.  Other than the fact that he's awesome, I mean.

De Niro doesn't have much to do, but he doesn't sleep walk through the role.  He's having fun, and he has a couple of opportunities to be really badass.  I haven't seen him looking so cool with an assault rifle since "Ronin" so that was nice to see.  Clive Owen, likewise, does what he can with a script that requires him to mostly just look badass and give orders to people.  Dominic Purcell is hilarious as Davies, who gets most of the film's best lines and has a truly epic mustache and sideburns.  Going into "Killer Elite" I thought Owen's mustache was going to be top dog, but Purcell puts him to shame.  Also surprising is how well Purcell disappears into the role.  This is literally the only time I've ever seen him  with any kind of real presence, intensity or fun.  He puts on the British accent well, and is nearly unrecognizable under his incredible hair and period clothing. 

Yvonne Stahovski, the blonde hottie from TV's "Chuck" is totally wasted as Danny's girlfriend, Annie.  She gets a handful of scenes and the entirety of her character in these scenes is her just wishing that Danny could settle down and be in love with her.  Her character exists merely as a plot point, but doesn't have any depth of its own, nor does it really give any extra depth to Danny, either, so she comes off feeling entirely extraneous.  Of course, without her, I don't think there'd be a single woman in this film with more than a single speaking line.  She's also the only woman in the film who isn't a hooker or a bimbo, so take that for what it's worth.

The centerpiece action sequence of the film pits Statham against Owen in the supply room of a hospital.  Here's where Owen really struts his stuff, holding is own in a brutal hand-to-hand battle against Statham. There's lots of crashing, head-butting and, yeah, a punch to the dick.  Coming out of "Killer Elite," I commented to Jackie that there just isn't enough dick-punching in movies these days.  It's a great fight, though a little tough to follow because of the shaky-cam photography and quick-cut editing.  My one disappointment is that this fight occurs only midway through the film, and there really isn't another opportunity for Statham and Owen to beat-down on each other. 

One refreshing aspect of the movie is that it does take place in the early 1980s.  Old cars, old clothes, crazy hair and mustaches abound, but what really struck me is the lack of cell phones, computers, satellite surveillance, and all the other digital wonders that are a staple of this kind of film.  There are honest-to-god film cameras being used here, and big, obvious earpieces for the supposedly stealthy radios these spies are all using.  It's fun to see these guys getting by old-school, not relying on hacking into computers or taking pictures with cell phones or getting messages via text, etc.  At one point, Danny's team sets up a car accident by remotely steering a large truck, but in order to do so they must remain in close proximity to the truck and have line-of-sight for their gizmo to work, which is one of the film's more clever sequences.

Still though, there's a lot of down-time in "Killer Elite."  I was expecting more, lengthier action set-pieces rather than what we got, but I'm not disappointed by what I was given.  Still, this makes "Killer Elite" more of a matinee or a DVD/Blu-Ray rental than a must-see prime-time flick. 

On the other hand, there really aren't enough dick-punches in Hollywood these days...