Jason Statham and Clive Owen have both excelled at being entertaining in even their dumbest projects, from Statham's unfettered cool in something like Death Race to Owen's smarty-pants charm in something like The International. But none of it is any help in Killer Elite, a movie so sloppy and lowest-common-denominator that it's even got one of those lazy late-career Robert de Niro performances that, sadly, are a pretty sure indication of awfulness these days. Spanning many continents and a revenge plot that's silly beyond belief, Killer Elite masks the true story of a secret British spy ring with tedious, incomprehensible action.
In an utterly unnecessary prologue we learn that mercenary killer Danny (Statham) has learned everything he knows from Hunter (De Niro), so that when Hunter is kidnapped by mysterious Arab royalty, Danny abandons his hot Australian girlfriend (Yvonne Stahovski) and idyllic farm life to rescue him. Danny and Hunter's father-son relationship is sketchily laid out in the prologue so that we understand these killers feel real human emotion, I guess, but writer-director Gary McKendry could have gotten that across in three lines of dialogue if he had even an inch of storytelling skill. Anyway, Danny winds up in Oman to negotiate Hunter's release, and after one badass but failed attempt and breaking him out, agrees to the terms of the kidnapper, who turns out to be the Sheikh of Oman. Danny will travel to England and hunt down the members of the British elite forces (the SAS) who killed the King's sons during a secret war with Oman-- because apparently the rules of engagement during wartime don't count when you're rich with oil money and have scores to settle.
So off to England Danny goes, while Hunter hangs out in jail offscreen and De Niro collects a hefty paycheck for a few days worth of work. Unsurprisingly, Danny's targeted attacks on the former British soldiers start attracting the attention of a top-secret group of them, called The Feather Men, who sit around a boardroom table and let us know how secretive they are by saying things like "Remember, we are businessmen and bankers now; what we do here is illegal." The retired soldiers dispatch a slightly younger one, Spike (Clive Owen), to hunt down Danny, leading to a cat-and-mouse chase that might be thrilling if McKendry had any idea how to structure it that way.
Ads for Killer Elite have promised showdowns between Owen and Statham, and we get one, but only in the last half hour of the film. Before then they both wander through spy movie setups we've seen so many times before-- the carefully executed hit, the mysterious taunting phone call to your enemy, the hugely improbable rooftop chase-- with both Statham and Owen expending a lot of loose cannon charisma that the story never takes advantage of. They really are great when they face each other, and even McKendry's herky-jerky action directing style can't mask the fact that they're two professionals who enjoy kicking each other in the face and trading quips. But there's precious little of that strewn amid a story that goes everywhere you expect it to go, and nowhere worth going at all.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich
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