Killer Elite: Actioner Starring Jason Statham and Clive Owen

An assassination that does not go as planned opens “Killer Elite” (no relation to the 1975 Sam Peckinpah film) and convinces mercenary Danny Bryce (Jason Statham) to get out of the game.

But leaving behind a life of crime is never easy in a Hollywood movie. You may think you are done with crime, but that does not necessarily mean crime feels the same way about you. Bryce learns this the hard way in a complicated film that tries to break free from action movie clichés but for the most part remains trapped within them.

Bryce is quickly pulled back into the game when a powerful sheikh kidnaps his former partner-in-crime, Hunter (Robert De Niro). To free Hunter, Bryce must finish the job his friend failed to complete: assassinating three UK Special Forces operatives who assassinated three of the sheik’s sons.

“There is no ‘after this,’” Bryce insists, making clear his determination that this be his “one last job”—then he is out for good.

The new mission eventually brings Bryce into conflict with Spike (Clive Owen), who works for a secret association of ex-Special Forces businessmen and wants to stop the assassinations.

Both men are uniquely tough. They belong to what the film calls the “2 percent natural killers” among the assassin class, and both adhere to bushido-type ethics in a corrupt world. Bryce and Spike should be on the same side, but fate has placed them on opposite sides.

Statham plus De Niro plus Owen—this should be a fun film, with the three of them chewing one another up and spitting one another out. But “Killer Elite,” while relatively energetic, gets stuck in the dull-and-confusing zone.

The two main problems are with the screenplay by Matt Sherring: it is hard to follow and lacks any convincing emotional center.

Sherring zooms through plot points, failing to solidify the premise from the outset and to fully introduce the characters, both the main ones and supporting ones.

Bryce, for reasons never explained, must get a videotaped confession from each target before he is killed and must make each kill look like an accident. Much of the film covers the elaborate planning that goes into each murder, but the purpose of all that extra work is never outlined.

Supporting parts like an assassin handler (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and a young assassin trainee (Michael Dorman) literally appear out of nowhere and are given no proper introductions.

The core of the story would seem to be Bryce’s dedication to his best buddy/mentor, Hunter, but there is no back-story on how these two become such fast friends. The lengths that Bryce goes to save Hunter, the sacrifices Bryce makes, are thus hard to accept.

There is also no back-story on Spike, which considerably weakens the Bryce–Spike dynamic.

“Killer Elite” is like the sequel to a nonexistent previous film, in which these relationships were set up.

Annoying flashbacks reveal that Bryce has a beautiful girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski) back home in Australia—another reason to leave the game. This subplot goes from annoying to perplexing when the girlfriend, who has been obsessed with finding out the true nature of her boyfriend’s secret work, suddenly does an unmotivated about-face and announces that she no longer cares what terrible things Bryce may have done in the past or may be doing now.

Director Gary McKendry, in his first feature film, strives for stylishness to raise this material up but too often overreaches. This film wants to be a “Carlos” (2010) or a “Munich” (2005) or a “Ronin” (1998) but does not know how to get there. One fight scene set in a room filled with attack dummies may be homage to Nicholas Ray’s “Bitter Victory” (1957) but does not seem part of any coherent strategy. More successful is a Chris Nolan-esque chase sequence through desert tunnels filled with bats.

Announcing itself from the outset as a “true story” set in 1980, the film does the bare minimum to capture that period. There are a few rotary phones, a couple of punk rock songs, some vintage cars, and that is about it.

Cast

Danny Bryce – Jason Statham

Spike – Clive Owen

Anne – Yvonne Strahovski

Hunter – Robert De Niro

Davies – Dominic Purcell

The Agent – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Captain James Cregg – Grant Bowler

Pennock – Matthew Nable

Diane – Jamie McDowell

Finn – Chris Anderson

ADR Voice – George Murphy

Jake – Michael Dorman

Credits

An Open Road Films release.

Directed by Gary McKendry.

Written by Matt Sherring.

Produced by Michael Boughen, Tony Winley, Steve Chasman, and Sigurjon Sighvatsson.

Cinematography, Simon Duggan.

Editing, John Gulbert.

Original Music, Johnny Klimke and Reinhold Heil.

Running time: 100 minutes.