To answer the question you’re probably asking, yes – action fans should be pleased with Killer Elite. It’s got more story to it than many other selections in the genre, but just because it has more plot doesn’t mean it actually has anything to say. For me, the best action films either offer something interesting to think about (Inception, the Bourne films) or are paper-thin excuses to jump from one action sequence to the next (see: every Tony Jaa movie ever made). In terms of Jason Statham movies, Killer Elite falls squarely in the middle of these extremes, more akin to The Bank Job than The Transporter.
There’s an interesting line of dialogue that comes late in the film, when a government agent seemingly captures Jason Statham and Clive Owen and says, “That’s what we love about you lot – you only care about the action.” I’m guessing this line spoke directly to much (if not all) of the audience for Killer Elite. Personally, I judge most action films on whether or not they meet one strict criterion: does it show me something I’ve never seen before? Here’s a sweeping generalization: oftentimes the plot, characters, and visual effects are interchangeable in this genre, so, for me, the devil is in the details. One fight scene, car chase, or unexpected reveal can separate these movies from their brethren; in short, give me something memorable or GTFO. Killer Elite has two things I’ve never seen: Jason Statham’s character uses a loaf of bread as a silencer for his gun at one point, and there is a sequence (shown in the trailer) in which Statham fights a guy while strapped to a chair. So, on some level, I’d consider this movie a success.
So there’s no confusion, I’ll sum up my feelings with a phrase I’ve come to despise: I liked this movie for what it was. Normally, I think that assessment is taking the lazy way out, trivializing the filmmaker by implying he/she set the bar lower than a “normal” movie. But when a film like this is so clearly trying to be a certain thing, there’s nothing wrong with judging it as such. Action scenes aside, the rest of the movie was far from the failure I anticipated. Unlike something like The Expendables, which is loud, over the top, and just plain stupid, Killer Elite operates in a far more realistic world (as it should, considering it’s based on true events). This is espionage, not a Stallone-era shoot-em-up where the person with the biggest gun wins. In fact, I’d argue there’s almost too much story told here; so much happens, the movie feels a lot longer than its runtime suggests.
The leads were all enjoyable to watch, though they didn’t share much screen time together. Statham turns in one of his better performances; the man’s not known for his great dramatic work, but he pulls that off just as well as the action beats here. It’s reassuring to see De Niro in a part like this again after his stretch attempting comedy in the Focker movies. Clive Owen is fine – he plays a guy named Spike, so of course he wears a leather jacket to secret society meetings. He and Statham have an impressive brawl in the middle of the film that wasn’t quite as memorable as some other points in the movie, due mostly to director Gary McKendry’s over-reliance on shaky cam. Yvonne Strahovski (NBC’s “Chuck”) shows up as a love interest for Statham, but ultimately doesn’t have a lot to do. Though her backstory is expectedly cliched, she shows a lot more charm than typical action movie eye candy, and I’d like to see her spread her wings a bit with some larger roles. Try as any of these actors may, they’re still slaves to this film’s script, which offers its share of terrible dialogue. Some of my favorites:
“I’m done with killing.” “Maybe killing ain’t done with you.”
“That’s why we’re called The Feathermen – because our touch…is light.”
“Killing’s easy. Living with it is the hard part.”
“Everybody knows the rules: there are no rules!”
Killer Elite has its moments, but ultimately it’s a pretty forgettable outing in which the tight and economical action sequences play second fiddle to a story that drags a bit before reaching its easily predictable conclusion. Until next time…