Killer Elite

I think I like this movie, except now I can't think of anything to say about it, really, which is usually a bad sign. It's like stand-up comedy, maybe -- as long as you're getting some reaction from the audience, that isn't out and out booing, there's still hope. Indifference is the worst possible sign, and that seems to work for movies, too.

I was all set to like it, anyway. I like Jason Statham all right -- The Expendables wasn't much, in my opinion, but that wasn't his fault. Despite having frightened me a little in Machete, it's hard to go wrong with Robert De Niro. And of course I think Clive Owen (The International) is great, despite that silly mustache they put on him for this flick. In retrospect, I seem to have spent a great deal of time staring at that mustache, and that's largely because there wasn't a lot else to hold my attention at times.

It's based on a true story, unless you're British, in which case I think you might be legally obligated to call it fiction, since the British government has officially decreed that none of this ever happened, according to the captions at the end. It's confusing enough to have actually happened, that's all I can say.

Back about thirty years ago -- the movie's set in 1980-81 -- a sheik who owned a lot of oil-rich desert was kicked out by his people and forced to live the life of a fugitive. Fortunately, he had already stashed away several billion dollars of oil money, no doubt leaving his people destitute, so he lives the life of a fugitive with bodyguards, limousines, and of course the requisite underground compound for added security. Strangely, he wasn't kicked out for keeping all the oil money for himself, but rather because he didn't wreak bloody vengeance on the men who killed three of his four sons. Now the sheik is dying, and he wants his youngest son to be able to go back to reclaim his birthright.

The problem is that the three were all three killed in battle, while the British were there fighting over oil, so you'd think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to figure out exactly which of the many British soldiers there at the time did the actual killing. But hey, with enough money on offer, I'm sure someone would be willing to make up some proof against somebody. Somehow, the sheik finds himself a name, and declares that he'll give $6 million to the man who kills the killers of his sons. That converts to something more like $18 or $20 million today, so Robert De Niro jumps at it.

He plays Hunter, mentor in the assassination game to Jason Statham's character, Danny Bryce. Ex-mentor, I guess, since Danny retired after a particularly nasty job. Then Hunter finds out a few things. First, all deaths have to look accidental. Second, all the men must first confess to their crime on tape. And last but certainly not least, these men are all SAS -- Special Air Service, a bunch that makes the Navy SEALS look like cupcakes, as one character puts it. It's probably bad form not to mention those sorts of things right up front, so it's no surprise that Hunter tries to pass on the job.

Danny, meanwhile, is busy romancing Yvonne Strahovski in Australia. She plays Sarah on Chuck, but here she's Anne and not at all spy-like. When Danny hears Hunter's in trouble -- since the sheik doesn't like it when people pass on the jobs he gives them -- he leaves the poor befuddled Anne behind and runs to the rescue.

Other random people help Danny, like Aden Young and Dominic Purcell, who was just in Straw Dogs. Of slightly dubious assistance is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's character, who is never referred to by name and is credited as simply "Agent". Not as in secret agent, though, at least I don't think so. He keeps worrying about his cut, so I guess he's like a sort of walking Mercenaries For Hire want-ads section, helping people in need find qualified professionals to help them with all their assassination needs. He was Wombosi in The Bourne Identity, so he's no stranger to action movies.

And Clive Owen is positively no help whatsoever. He used to be in the SAS himself, so naturally he isn't pleased at the idea of his comrades being killed. His character is called Spike, a name almost as silly as the mustache, but whatever you do, don't tease him about it because he has a temper. I mean a temper.

I think I've finally figured out what puzzled me about this flick. There were plenty of individual scenes and storylines that I liked, but, like a lot of "based on a true story" movies, it's uneven. It was often very interesting to watch them try to figure out these 'accidental' deaths, but in between, when they were trying to keep some sort of overall plot going, it was a little dull. Not dull in that no one was trying to kill anyone, because that was a constant, but dull in that things were just slow enough to give me the chance to realize that I just wasn't all that interested in the overall plot. Or the characters, really.

Three out of five, I guess. I'm still really not quite sure, unfortunately. Other people seemed to like it much more, so maybe I'm just being too fussy because my action movie appreciation is broken or something. If so, I'd better get that fixed before Real Steel opens.

Image: 
Jason Statham demonstrates his trademark Flying Killer Chair move on Clive Owen.

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