A barrage of bullets
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Sep 23, 2011
In the simultaneously silly and overwrought action thriller "Killer Elite," Jason Statham plays Danny Bryce, a professional assassin with a soft spot for women, children and the innocent.
Good luck figuring out who falls into that last category. Danny's bullets - along with the ones from other people's guns - fly so indiscriminately that it doesn't really matter who's the hero and who's the villain here. Like a first-person-shooter video game, there seems to be a virtually limitless supply of bad guys, including, in many ways, the star of the movie, which posits that 2 percent of the world's population (or nearly 140 million people) are natural killers.
Moral ambiguity - if not the decline of civilization - may be the point, to the extent that there is one, in this bloody and needlessly complicated exercise in adrenal fatigue. Mind you, the taxing nature of the violence is felt only by the audience. Danny and the film's cast of killers - who you might think have higher than normal job stress - don't appear to be terribly troubled by what they do for a living. "Killing is easy," says Danny. "It's living with it that's hard."
You wouldn't know it from watching "Killer Elite." Living with blood on his hands seems pretty easy for Danny, despite his decision, early in the film, to get out of the business after almost blowing a little girl's head off. The fact that Danny has just killed her father doesn't bother him so much.
After a mere year's vacation, however, Danny's back in the game - with no apparent loss of sleep or soul-searching - when he learns that an Arab sheik has taken his BFF and former partner Hunter (Robert De Niro) hostage. It seems that Hunter is being used as leverage to get Danny to carry out one last assignment: the execution of three British special forces agents who killed three of the sheik's sons. To further complicate matters, Danny not only has to get the men to confess on videotape, but he must make the killings look like accidents, which leads to a bit of "Mission Impossible"-style trickery.
Keep in mind that all this is just the setup.
The real conflict doesn't get underway until much, much later, after the three men have been summarily - if creatively - dispatched, along with Danny's assistants, played by Aden Young and Dominic Purcell. [Note: If your name doesn't appear above the film's title, you're probably not going to make it to the closing credits. In Young and Purcell's case, it's a shame. They bring an idiosyncratic verve to the proceedings. So does De Niro, who, for once, doesn't seem to be phoning in the mostly thankless part.]
As it turns out, Danny's special-ops victims had been taking orders from a shadowy fellow called Spike (Clive Owen). So he's the real bad guy.
Or is he?
Spike gets his marching orders from a bunch of even more shadowy fellows called the Feather Men. They sit around in conference rooms deciding the fate of the world, and who lives and dies. Needless to say, they want Danny dead, which leads to a drawn-out showdown between Danny and Spike, characterized by such gymnastic impossibilities as the scene - replayed ad nauseam on the TV ads - in which Danny, while duct-taped to a chair, disarms Spike and then leaps, chair and all, through a glass window and onto the roof of a nearby truck, without apparent injury.
It's an amazing stunt, if less than the pinnacle of the cinematic art form.
Despite such heart- and credulity-straining thrills, the film is bogged down by a cliche including a girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) who doesn't know what Danny does for a living.
Other than sharing a plot built around assassination, "Killer Elite" has no relation to the 1975 Sam Peckinpah film "The Killer Elite." Although the new movie is being packaged, rather astonishingly, as fact-based, its source is a 1991 book, "The Feather Men," by Ranulph Fiennes, who has described his book as "faction."
I've got another portmanteau word for the movie: unbelievaballistic.
Contains copious violence and obscenity and some sex and nudity.