These days when action movies without giant computer generated robots and massive special effects set pieces find their way into theaters, it’s a bit of a surprise. Gary McKendry’s ‘80s style throwback actioner Killer Elite is a case in point. Certainly more well made than many of its genre brethren, Killer Elite is still of the ilk that chiefly exists in the direct-to-video market in this particular historical epoch.
Much like Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, I suspect Killer Elite’s theatrical run is a result of the names involved. Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and a guy named Robert De Niro (you may have heard of him), are more bankable stars than, say, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, or anyone who used to be a professional wrestler.
Killer Elite bears many of the hallmarks of DTV action. It doesn’t spend a lot of time with things like character and story; its primary concern is with grizzled assassins and covert operatives, and putting these rough and tumble gentlemen into situations where they do badass things. Every element of Killer Elite that is not a straight up action sequence exists as a stepping-stone to an action sequence. Danny (Statham) goes into a heavily guarded fortress unarmed, you know he’s going to have to fight his way out. Danny spots Spike (Owen) tailing him, you know a car chase followed by a brutal, though oddly bloodless, hand-to-hand brawl is about to go down.
This is that sort of movie. Everything is secondary to the action. The script is painfully lazy. Characters say things like, “You may be done with killing, but maybe killing ain’t done with you.” From the moment Anne (Yvonne Strahovski), Danny’s love interest, appears you know that the only reason she exists is to ultimately be used as leverage to coerce Danny to take a mission he doesn’t want.
That is a well they tap time and time again: Danny was finished with the game, living in a van, fixing up a shack in the woods, he was done, but dammit, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. Danny has to come out of retirement to kill three British SAS soldiers in order to free Hunter (De Niro), his mentor and, the movie hopes you think, his pseudo father figure. You may feel like you’ve seen this story before. That’s because you have. Many, many times.
In these ways Killer Elite is just another generic action flick. But even given the film’s limitations and glaring flaws, it’s a lot of damn fun. The romantic subplot is an attempt to round Danny out somewhat, but it fails miserably. Spike is a single-note villain, driven in an I’m-gonna-get-you-Jason-Statham kind of way, and that is all. But in the end the movie is about one thing: highly trained assassins doing highly trained assassin kind of things. And that regard Killer Elite delivers in spades.
The action comes fast and furious, the film starts with a high-powered gun battle and rarely slows down after that. You can certainly tell that the lion’s share of the time and effort was spent here during production. Just as you’re about to sigh at the predictability of the plot, gunfire erupts, something explodes, or Danny has to beat a confession out of someone. Things move quick enough that you can forgive plot questions and rehashed archetypes. Killer Elite simply wants to keep your heart rate elevated.
Killer Elite is also the kind of movie where characters have awesome names like Spike and Hunter, names that are supposed to sound tough, but are silly instead. Obviously these are people you don’t want to cross, their names are Spike and Hunter. You should probably go mess with Muffin and Sprinkles, instead.
Dominic Purcell (Prison Break) and Aden Young (Sniper) do nice turns as the other members of Danny’s team. They only exist to provide a dark comic relief, and to make Danny mad, thus giving him that much more motivation, when they ultimately die. Don’t worry, that isn’t a spoiler; that is simply a foregone conclusion in the world of action movies. The vaguely familiar, smart-ass sidekicks never make it out alive. Sorry, guys.
Killer Elite doesn’t break any new ground, not even close, but if you’re in the mood for a solid, ass-kicking action film, one that is a raucous good time, definitely give it a chance. Fast-paced and fully stocked, Killer Elite is a damn fine time for action junkies.
The Blu-ray comes with a collection of deleted scenes, 13 in all. While that sounds like a lot, it only adds up to a little over nine minutes, and there is little of significant interest. One of the scenes almost, emphasis on almost, gives Owens’ character a bit of depth and back-story. Spike has a wife and child, trying to cope with his combat-haunted past and his occasional violent outbursts. The moment is too little, too easy, but hey, at least they tried.