What happens when you take Robert De Niro, Jason Statham, and Clive Owen, mix in a cup of firearms, blend with a quart of choreographed fight scenes, and slap a "based on a true story" label onto the result? Killer Elite - that's what.
Don't get too close, though, according to the critics and audience members at Rotten Tomatoes, this one's been sitting on the counter for a little too long. To be fair, the audience seemed to like the film a little bit more than the critics, leaving it with a 46% to the critics' 25%. So it hasn't been entirely panned, but rather lightly tapped on the wrist and smacked on the bottom. Though not in a good way.
With the three toughs, DeNiro, Statham, and Owen, the cast is pretty strong. But somewhere between those casting calls and the cinema screen something seems to have gone off the rails.
Maybe it's in the script - maybe it's in Stratham's character. I can't say for sure just yet. But here we go.
So the story here is that Statham and De Niro are both contract killers. Statham gets seriously shell shocked during an assignment and swears off of killing for good. But then, one year later (1981, by the way), Statham is mysteriously pulled back into the world of covert espionage and contract killing when De Niro falls for a set up and is kidnapped by a wealthy Sheik.
As it turns out this Sheik lost three of his sons during the Oman War and because he couldn't exact revenge on them he was exiled from his tribe. The only way back in, and to secure a place of traditional honour for his son, is to avenge the deaths by killing the killers. This was the job that De Niro took even though he knew it was a trap. I mean, he must have known, the casual banter between Statham and De Niro suggests that De Niro's character is supposed to be Statham's teacher or long time accomplice.
In any case, it is this triple-assassination job that Statham must complete to win De Niro's freedom.
This alone would make a pretty kickin' action movie, I think. And the way that it's delivered - a little jumpily, but in such a way that you can see how the jumps fit together into a dance of sorts - definitely seems more polished than most action movies. In that, on the surface, this movie seems to be marble whereas other action flicks are generally concrete. Rough around the edges and able to sustain great scrutiny because shit gets blowed up.
But, if you're like Statham in a reconnaissance scene in the first act and take a knife to chip away a sample of this marble to take back for analysis, you'll find that the marble's just a facade.
The fact that he has to avenge each son in turn - involving the killing of the killer and obtaining a confession - and return to Oman after each hit makes me wonder if the writer (Matt Sherring) thought that he was doing a video game rather than a movie. Or if they wanted to do a movie with hopes of a tie in. Because this is essentially an action movie about a series of fetch quests. There's really not much more to it.
Oh. Except for a romance which is sprinkled throughout the beginning of the second act, and then becomes full blown by its end and a major part of the third.
As soon as this romance moved from flashbacks to actual scenes in the present I braced myself. Flashbacks are allowed to have bad dialogue - that I can chalk up to characters remembering things incorrectly - but, in the present dialogue should be crisp and turns should be not so immediate as they are here. No, it's not entirely the fault of the script, but it doesn't help.
Further, the woman that they cast for Statham's love interest (Yvonne Strahovski) is cute, but doesn't seem to have much more to her acting than that: being cute.
There's really not a whole lot else to her either - she's kind of like Aerith from Final Fantasy 7 but without the back story. She and Statham (Cloud, in this analogy) knew each other as kids and then he went away and she stayed behind. Cut the twists out of the situation in FF7, and there you go. The actress also seems to struggle with keeping up her accent in spite of being a native Australian. I guess most of the budget went to the three names for the poster.
However. There are some good things about this movie.
As I mentioned above when talking about the way that the story is told, there is a jumpiness which I found kept me on my feet. However, this didn't last as the flashbacks (very brief, very effective, though in an action movie kind of way), were dropped as the present becomes the main setting in the later half of the second act. Also, once the killing for the sheik is finished everything becomes very linear and quite dull. So, actually, it seems that the story-telling is mixed at best.
But wait - up to this point I haven't talked about what people go to see action movies for: action. This, I think, is where the film really shines. The sequences aren't made uninterpretable by weird angles or camera tricks, and there is some clever stuff thrown in. Not at the level of Jackie Chan's early stuff, but the way that Statham gets out of a chair that he's been tied to in one scene is definitely something I've never seen before.
Actually, come to think of it, I think I know what happened here. In the first act and a half there was a pretty steady focus on telling the story in an interesting way - reaching lock stock and two smoking barrels levels of clear and intricate action once or twice. Then, come the last act and a half in which the storytelling was replaced with clever action sequences. Huh. A curious melding of the two, but if you're going to do it like that, then why not just write two movies?
I'm trying to think of other good things about this one. And nothing is really coming to mind. Clive Owen's moustache is good as the comic relief. But that can hardly count towards the film's redemption.
So, I'd say that means that you can just leave this one behind, Freya - and we won't worry about it. Down there in the heap of its fellow action flicks it'll have plenty of company.