Silver Screen: Killer Elite **
Killer Elite is like a horse dressed up in old-lady clothes and a sunhat, peanut butter and mayonnaise in one convenient jar, or a bookstore in Texas-- a charmingly awkward mishmash, novel in the same ways that it is impractical.
The result is a rush of exposition dashed off in streams of awkward dialogue punctuated by secondhand quips. We learn an awful lot of backstory and faux-insider spy-game procedures, none of which are ever particularly significant or interesting. It's a too-elaborate and distractible delivery system for some decent action sequences.
Boiled down, the plot is this: Jason Statham's retired spy/mercenary, Danny is blackmailed to do one last job when his mentor (Robert De Niro) is kidnapped by a terminally ill Sheikh who wants the deaths of his three sons avenged. Statham, a killer of killers, is to assemble a team-- including the surprisingly charismatic Dominic Purcell, dull onscreen until now-- and assassinate all the British Special Air Service officers who killed his boys. Meanwhile, a member of a star chamber of former Special Air Service agents goes rogue and attempts to hunt down Statham and stop him from killing any more British military men.
It's a convoluted and fairly uninteresting way to accomplish the movie's real goal, which is to pit major actors against one another in big action sequences. Often the end result is too much buildup for too little payoff, like a squandered scene in which Statham poses as a Special Air Service trainee and attempts to hunt down one of his targets during a massive training exercise.
For Statham, this is just another entry in a series of varyingly forgettable action flicks (the frenetic and fun but forgettable Crank and The Transporter, the passably fun but forgettable Death Race and Mechanic remakes, and various just-forgettable sequels). This sort of thing is his stock-in-trade, and his consistent presence ensures that viewers will be neither blown away nor sorely disappointed.
For Owen it's something of a distraction in a career that, a couple of chilly recent years aside, has been far more interesting, with disparate roles in Gosford Park, Closer, Sin City, and Children of Men. Most of Owen's forays into action have been more interesting, from stylistic potboiler Inside Man to the frenetic Shoot 'Em Up, a rare equal to Statham's madcap kill frenzy Crank. His great presence is squandered here on a mostly generic part.
And for De Niro it's just another late-career-period genre blip, not as odious as Righteous Kill or Fifteen Minutes or as dull as Godsend. De Niro already earned a free lifetime pass to make lousy movies by 1980, so we can patiently sit through this one while we wait for another great De Niro sighting à la The Good Shepherd or his awesomely weird bit part in Machete.
But the real shame of it is that Killer Elite never lives up to its greatest promise, which is a Statham-Owen-De Niro matchup. The three share a single sequence at the end but never interact. Owen is a secondary presence and De Niro is a minor player at best, more a linchpin of the plot than a major character. And so it turns out not to be a showcase for three badasses, but a routine Jason Statham movie with an outsized supporting cast.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter @bmillercomedy.