Killer Elite (review)

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Jason Statham and Clive Owen in Killer Elite

Tinker Tailor Smasher Basher

grunt grunt grunt *glower* [insert mockney swearing] bash crash punch kick [insert closeup of unshaven stubble] grunt grunt grunt *glower* [insert mockney swearing] bash crash punch kick [insert closeup of unshaven stubble] grunt grunt grunt *glower* [insert mockney swearing] bash crash punch kick [insert closeup of unshaven stubble]

Repeat for 107 minutes.

Repeat for half a dozen movies.
Every Jason Statham flick is the same. It doesn’t matter whether he’s “portraying” a criminal getaway driver, an ex-con, a former Special Forces soldier, or, some combination of the three. All of his martial-arty headbashing and all of his enormously unclever one-liners could be randomly flipped from Death Race to The Transporter to The Mechanic to, now Killer Elite, and no one would notice. The characters themselves could be moved around like chess pieces on a blood-soaked board, and no one would care. It is, in fact, part of Statham’s appeal… for those who find it appealing.

I find it appalling. Statham’s onscreen persona is one of pure thuggishness: he’s not witty or charismatic or anything other than a brute. It’s clear that sometimes that can work: the insane cartoonishness of the Crank movies is a perfect match for him. It’s clear Statham has more in him: the sneaky heist flick The Bank Job gives him an actual character to play, and he does it well. (This film is the single exception to the rule enumerated above.) But the endless repetition of the thug-as-hero precisely because he’s a thug is worst than boring: it’s disgusting.

And here we go again. Statham is ex Special Forces. The year is 1980. Circumstances — the kidnapping of his former partner and mentor (a rather miscast Robert DeNiro: Limitless, Little Fockers) — force him into working for an Omani sheik whose sons were murdered by the SAS: Statham assassinates those soldiers, or else DeNiro gets it. So Statham goes and assassinates those soldiers.

That’s pretty much the extent of Killer Elite. “I’m done with killing,” Statham says — as close as he gets to a one-liner in this relentlessly vicious and charmless film — and then proceeds to kill a whole lotta people. Once in a while he insists upon “posing” as a “military historian” or a doctor, which is ridiculous, but not in any way to be actively amusing, even if accidentally so. That would get in the way of the frenetic sequences of gunshots, blood splatters, and meaty fists-meeting-faces.

It’s all supposedly true, we’re meant to believe: it’s based on a 1991 novel by former SAS soldier Ranulph Fiennes [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] that we’re supposed to accept as actually true. As corporate-government conspiracies go — they want the Middle East’s oil! — it’s pretty banal. The film spends little time on it anyway, which just ends up wasting Clive Owen (Trust, The Boys Are Back) as an enforcer for some sort of shadowy group of businessman who want Oman’s go juice. At least Owen does get to beat up on Statham a bit.

Is the action any fun? Not even. Newbie director Gary McKendry doesn’t know much about staging an interesting fight. He does love him some metaphors, though. We learn that Statham is “upset” by all the blood on his hands when McKendry gives us a lingering closeup on, you know, blood on his hands. It’s about the only coherent moment in the movie.

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