Killer Elite is the worst kind of movie for writing a review. It’s certainly not a good movie, but it’s so forgettable that there’s not much in particular to talk about. I suppose that it does exactly what it sets out to do, but that’s such a low bar that I’m not giving it a trophy just for showing up. But it’s not bad enough to warrant any bile, for something to be really bad it has to be interesting in some way because at least it pisses you off. Killer Elite is like a decent fast food hamburger. It tastes exactly like you think it will taste, fills you up, and then you forget about it because you’ve eaten that exact same hamburger once a month for your entire life. That doesn’t make it a bad meal, but you’re not going to write any letters to the editor about it one way or the other.
Jason Statham stars as Jason Statham, and the film is reasonably effective whenever he is Stathaming his way through the extras. He has a certain indescrible Stathamness that inherently makes any action scene more Stathamesque. Robert DeNiro seems like he has a good time as a senior Stathamer, and Clive Owen is convincing as the enemy Statham, though his terrible thin little mustache is hardly Stathamy.
Yvonne Strahovski plays the … well, she doesn’t really play anything. She looks fetching in shorts and does manage to cry, so I suppose that’s acting, but it wasn’t really her fault that the writers didn’t give her an actual character to play. I honestly didn’t recognize her during the film, though she looked terribly familiar. It was only when I sat down to write this and saw her name on the credits that I realized that I didn’t recognize her because I’d seen her before playing a strong and independent character and not a physical description.
The film is set in 1980, which allows mildly entertaining tidbits of retro cultural references, expunges most technology hand waving we would get contemporaneously, and allows the characters to drive delicious old school cars during the mandatory car chases. Oh and also because the true story upon which it is based supposedly happened then. When are they going to learn that tacking that crap onto the front actively makes the audience less engaged? The words “true story” do not make a patently absurd action movie somehow more plausible or dramatic.
The movie suffers an immediate conflict between a decent premise and playing to its strengths. The premise is an assassin blackmailed into killing some former SAS soldiers while making the deaths look like accidents. The strength of the film is Statham. And a proper Stahaming is never going to be mistaken for an accident, so the film has to hold back instead of finding any steady rhythm.
The story certainly seems to think far more of itself than it deserves. Ooh, we’re an edgy movie because everyone is totally morally gray. No, just because you have Statham uttering cringing dialogue like “killing is easy, living with it is hard,” doesn’t make your film Unforgiven. There’s almost something deeper in there. The concept of a sort of secret alumni club of former members of the SAS is kind of intriguing in the context of an action film. And the grasps at making all sides essentially pawns in a larger and nefarious struggle has potential. There’s even a bit of moral conflict in the initial argument that the targets of the Staham are on the list essentially because they fought in a war. But none of those moral conflicts are allowed to play out in any meaningful way. It’s troublesome because the film doesn’t have the brains to actually be meaningful, but its half-assed attempts at meaning drag down whatever the action had going for it. And whatever merits of enjoyable action the first half of the film provides dissipate just about completely as the film runs off the rails in the last act. Random characters betraying each other and then having an evil monologue about oil contracts doesn’t make your film into Syriana any more than a spray tan cures rickets.
But for all that, Killer Elite is entertaining enough when it stays in the zone of a quick-moving action film. It’s when it stops to convince you that it’s smart that its three brain cells can’t keep up.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.