Friday, September 23, 2011

Statham Leaves His Shirt On: Killer Elite

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

Last week saw the opening of a remake of a Sam Peckinpah movie called "Straw Dogs." This week we have a movie with the same title as a Sam Peckinpah movie, but it's not a remake. Just so we have that clear.

But I do think this "Killer Elite" may have something in common with that "Straw Dogs" remake: They're both not very good.

Perhaps just knowing that the movie is about an assassin played by Jason Statham tells you enough to know it's probably crap. But I happen to like a lot of movies in which Jason Statham plays an assassin, (or a thief, or a guy who drives a car), so I went in with an open mind. (And a desire to see Statham take of his shirt and possibly kill someone with it.)

My friends: He leaves his shirt on in the entire movie. That's reason enough to stay the hell away.

Oh sure. Knowing that both Robert De Niro and Clive Owen are in it probably makes it sound like this movie is a classier affair, something that wouldn't pander to an audience hoping for shirtless Statham. It's very obvious the movie wants to be considered important and serious, so it avoids jumping full throttle into mindless action and violence. But the thing is, it doesn't succeed in being a serious movie, so it fails at both.

Supposedly based on a true story that took place in the early 1980s, Statham stars as Danny Bryce, an assassin who has retired from the job, until his friend and former comrade, Hunter, (Robert De Niro), is taken hostage by a dying sheik who seeks to avenge the deaths of his three sons at the hands of British forces during a war in Oman. In order to free Hunter, Danny must kill the three former soldiers, while making their deaths look like accidents, and not before obtaining taped confessions.

Of course, in real life, these assassinations occurred over a 17-year period. In the movie, it takes about a month.

The assassination rules are actually a good set-up, as there's potential for fun in seeing how Danny and his team will figure out just how to kill three men "accidentally." Unfortunately, after the first killing, their plans get pretty preposterous, and how Danny goes about making them happen is just laughable. (Don't even get me started with the whole ridiculous scene in a hospital, apparently the only one in all of London.)

Clive Owen plays a member of a secret government operation called the Feather Men, and is wise to Danny's plan and is dead set on stopping him, even as his fellow Feather Men seem unconcerned. He and Statham have a couple of bone-crushing fights, but director Gary McKendry uses annoying shaky-cam camera work, and rapid cutting, so that you never really get a sense of who's getting punched in the face by who; (perhaps better to hide the stunt doubles with).

There's some last minute double-crossing, and "surprises" that really don't make much sense and just add needless complications (and minutes) to the film. There's also the requisite helpless girlfriend back home, (Yvonne Strahovski from TV's "Chuck"), that Danny drags halfway across the world to help letting her wander aimlessly around the dark streets of Paris.

I've long maintained that Jason Statham is the Jean-Claude Van Damme of our generation, but with a slight difference. Every now and then he will make a movie that is actually kind of serious. Even something to be respected.

I have a feeling he thought "Killer Elite" would be one of those movies, but unfortunately, it doesn't come close.

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