Head butts would seem to hurt, right? That's clearly the point of them, but it would seem to be just as painful to be the butter as the buttee.
In "Killer Elite," this is probably the most primal method of attack on display, but even the noisy intensity and frequency of the skull bashings — and pistol whippings and gut punches — don't register as anything beyond generic action-picture violence. The fact that director and co-writer Gary McKendry has shot all these brawls with the usual shaky cam and cut them in quick, choppy fashion only adds to how forgettable the film is.
And you'd think that any movie starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham would be one you'd want to remember. "Killer Elite" allows them to show off some of the presence and personality that made these men major movie stars, but ultimately they're just cogs in a clichéd revenge tale.
Statham stars as Danny, the typical special-ops, killing-machine-for- hire Statham tends to play. At the film's start in 1979, he and his mentor, Hunter (De Niro), are lying in wait for their target in an industrial section of Mexico. The assignment goes horribly wrong and Danny swears — swears! — this is it for him, the last one, he's done. But we all know how these things turn out: There has to be that tried-and-true One Last Job. Otherwise, there would be no movie.
A year later, Hunter has been abducted by a dying sheikh and is being held in Oman. Danny must flee the pastoral idyll of the rural Australian valley where he's ensconced himself with his beautiful girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) to perform the duty that will ensure Hunter's freedom. Danny is ordered to kill the men responsible for the deaths of the sheikh's three sons, but he has to get videotaped confessions from all three, and he has to make their deaths look like accidents.
No problem: Danny amasses the obligatory rag-tag team of rogues and is on his way. But they have to infiltrate the British Secret Air Service to get the job, which draws the attention of a shadowy protective society known as The Feather Men. ("Killer Elite" is based on a book called "The Feather Men," which supposedly was based on a true story, by Ranulph Fiennes, who appears as a character later on.)
This makes Danny the target of the secret group's main enforcer, a former SAS solider himself named Spike (Owen), and the usual shootouts and car chases ensue. Even with the cheesy mustache and one bad eye that are meant to signify that this man has lived a hard, dangerous life, it's impossible to disguise Owen's intense good looks and charisma. At the same time, "Killer Elite" doesn't take advantage of Owen's capacity for depth; he is driven, maybe a little tormented as evidenced by the glass coffee table he smashes, and that's about it.
When Statham and Owen finally meet in the showdown you've been waiting for, it's rendered in such dizzying, adrenalized style that it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom. Additionally, McKendry favors a steely gray color scheme that, in theory, is meant to reflect the cold-heartedness of these characters and their world, but actually just smothers everything in a bland sameness. One important yet obscured scene takes place in the snow, at night, in the middle of nowhere.
Statham, like the film itself, is muscular and efficient. But he seems awfully comfortable playing this kind of part by now, and he has such a brash, intriguing presence, he makes you wonder what else he'd be capable of doing if he stretched and challenged himself.
De Niro stays locked up for big chunks of the movie but when we do see him, he radiates the ease and comfort of a man who has nothing to prove. And he gets to fire a machine gun, which is probably a lot of fun when you're pushing 70, and might make "Killer Elite" more memorable for him than it will be for the audience.
"Killer Elite," an Open Road release, is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexuality/nudity. Running time: 116 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.