Review: Killer Elite

Killer Elite marks the third Jason Statham movie that has come out this year following The Mechanic and Blitz.  Is there such a thing as too much Jason Statham?

Killer Elite is based on a book called “The Feathermen” written by former SAS soldier Ranulph Fiennes that details the SAS’s involvement in wars in Oman and other countries in the Middle East.  The movie and book, purportedly based on the true events, follows mercenary/assassin Danny Bryce (Statham) as he must come to the rescue of his mentor, Hunter (Robert De Niro), after he is kidnapped by an Oman Sheik after accepting a bogus mercenary gig.  Danny is forced to travel to London and hunt down three former SAS agents who killed the Sheik’s sons, get confessions from them and then kill them in ways that look like accidents.  Danny and his team become the target of a group of retired SAS and special forces soldiers called “The Feathermen”, who task Spike Logan (Clive Owen) to protect the men Danny is targeting.

The plot of Killer Elite takes a while to get going, especially in the beginning when it has to get through tons of exposition about the various groups and set up who is who.  One thing that doesn’t help getting a handle on things is the movie constantly jumping from country to country, going from London to Paris to Oman in what seems like a five minute span.  Once Danny and his team starts assassinating people it moves along at a good clip and the various ways they assassinate their targets is one of the highlights of the movie.  I won’t spoil them all but I will say that the one I thought was the most clever and cool involved the guys turning an oil tanker into a giant, remote controlled car and causing a traffic accident with it.

One thing that negetively affects the movie is that it seems like it’s trying to make some sort of statement about covert operations and the use of mercenaries.  Whenever action movies try to have some sort of commentary they either flat out don’t work (like, for instance, Green Zone) or it’s hilariously heavy handed (the Burmese genocide stuff in Rambo).  It’s hard to take your message seriously when Jason Statham does a flip in chair and smashes the chair into some dude’s back.  Killer Elite could have been so much better if they had spent more time on the action and less time on their convoluted message about the nature of killing and the men who do it.  I did like the fact that everyone is sort of operating in moral shades of gray.

Something that I was not expecting from Killer Elite was that it is actually a period piece, taking place in 1980.  The movie does a great job of incorpating the fashion, cars and technology of the early ’80’s but never commentating or winking at the audience about it.

Action wise, the aforementioned assassination scenes are handled really well, especially the remote control truck sequence.  One disappointing thing about the action is that the mano a mano fights between Statham and Clive Owen, while cool, are done in the handicam, close up style that has been growing increasingly annoying since showing up in the Bourne movies.  It’s not quite as bad as Michael Bay’s robot on robot fights in the Transformers movies where the camera is so close you just see random metal bits hitting other random bits but I would have appreciated the fights more if they were pulled back and you had a better sense of who was hitting who.

In terms of this year’s offerings from “The Stath” I would put Killer Elite ahead of Blitz but behind The Mechanic, just because I think that The Mechanic was a better all around action movie and didn’t get bogged down in political messages like Killer Elite does.  Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro are all bad ass and fun to watch and it has some clever assassination scenes but it’s still kind of disappointing.  If you’re a serious Statham fan I would recommend you check it out during a matinee showing at your local theater but otherwise you can probably wait till it it hits DVD.

3.5 out of 5

(Rent Killer Elite from Redbox: http://www.redbox.com/movies/killer-elite-2011)

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