Over the past few years I’ve been responsible for thousands upon thousands of words, all dedicated to Jason Statham. I have made no attempt to hide my extreme levels of hero worship for the man and his work, leaping at the chance this year to write about Killer Elite at any, and every, available opportunity in the build up to the film’s release.
So you can only imagine how crushed I felt about writing this review, when the opportunity to finally see it resulted in one overriding emotion: disappointment.
Like ripping a plaster off, I’m going to have to make this as quick as possible to minimise the pain: Killer Elite really isn’t very good at all. The worst part is that out of all Statham’s films to date (with the possible exception of The Expendables), this one promised so much more than any of the others.
Killer Elite’s trailer alone had me champing at the bit, with its 80s rock and promise of non-stop action. Yet that movie isn’t the one you’ll be watching. The trailer’s editor should be commended for cutting such a fine piece of work together, and then promptly slapped for creating such false hope, especially given that the promo features material from so late in the film.
Indeed, any attempt at creating a sense of suspense and surprise is utterly ruined by the ever present realisation that scenes from the trailer haven’t appeared on screen yet. And when they do, they’re still great, but have nothing new to add in the context they’re presented, and are all too few and far between.
To give you a greater understanding of watching Killer Elite, it starts off fantastically, with Statham and the great Robert De Niro exchanging one liners and gunfire, in a nicely frenetic opening. Said opening also has the good grace to inform us that it’s set in the 80s. Suddenly, the prospect of setting an action movie back in the best decade for the genre seems inspired, as Statham’s character is dragged out of retirement, soulfully glancing out of a rain-covered window as a romantic flashback kicks in. My God, I can virtually hear the power ballad.
As the Stath takes out a man using just a cup, as only he can, I can almost sense the review writing itself in a flurry of praise. And by this point, Clive Owen hasn’t even appeared yet. Could this be the first ever five star Statham film?
No. And a long way from it.
From an opening that manages to emulate the best parts of a Bourne movie’s action and gloss, we’re suddenly wrenched away to a miserable and rain soaked London, taking most of the budget away at the same time.
Now, I spent a large part of my childhood growing up in central London, but I sure as hell don’t remember it looking like such a dive, and neither do I remember everything looking greeny-blue. Yet as well as the clichéd British weather, along comes a whole host of pseudo British stereotypes.
You see, Killer Elite’s plot is in fact ‘based on a true story’, so in between the explosive start and end to the film, we’re subjected to a reluctant Statham and his gang grimly dispatching the members of a Special Forces team, whose only real crime was to do what they were told. As a plot device, this is a fundamental flaw, as there’s nothing to separate Statham and his gang of mercenaries from Clive Owen and his squaddies. It leaves no room for any emotional impact.
With no real action to hold up the film’s central hour either (the fun punch up between Owen and Statham aside), no investment in any of the characters and no real thrills, all that’s left is some unintentional comedy and the spectacle of watching Statham’s character, Danny, not kill people. Yes, that’s right: not kill people.
Worse yet, every time the film does start to draw you in with its attempts at gritty drama, there’s suddenly a clanger of an accent to shake you out of it. Pity poor Dominic Purcell, who I can only assume wasn’t in on the joke when his dialect coach decided to make a mockery of his London accent. If you’re going to make the man do one (cast seemingly on account of the Australian funding, and he’s not alone), at least have the common sense to not do it in a film starring both Statham and Owen.
Sure enough, things get better towards the film’s conclusion, but you’ll have seen it all in the trailer, and if you haven’t, then it won’t really make up for the arduous middle section that plays out like a poor man’s The Sweeney, crossed with Neighbours. The film is an absolute victim to a poor, clichéd script (which could have redeemed itself with a sense of humour), the budget, the casting by committee and a lack of strong direction.
It’s neither a thriller, drama or action movie, wasting and miscasting its talented actors, as they do their level best to get through some of the worst lines I’ve heard in a movie for a while. Statham and Owen are both great, proving to be a moderate salvation for the film as a whole, though despite starring roles, never seem to be on the screen for long enough. That’s perhaps a symptom of how little they have to work with.
And De Niro? He actually isn’t on the screen long enough, scraping an ‘and’ credit, and only teasing us with the brief glimpse at what the film could have been. If only he and Statham had continued their team up throughout, this might have been better. As it stands, Killer Elite is a badly missed opportunity.