Killer Elite, an adaptation of Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ controversial bestseller The Feather Men, purports to be based on actual events, chronicling the sinister machinations of a shadowy military organization. But this clumsy action movie feels too generic to be real. The film attempts to add an element of sophisticated sociopolitical commentary to the typical Jason Statham head-busting shoot-’em-up, but only ends up draining it of visceral thrills. Killer Elite is less a cerebral thriller than an underachieving time-waster with feeble pretensions.
In a performance that stubbornly fails to expand on his steely persona, a scowling, all-business Statham stars as an elite former Special Air Serviceman intent on getting out of the assassination business. Statham longs for a simpler, less violent life, but when mentor Robert De Niro is kidnapped, he’s forced back into action as a frighteningly efficient professional killer. In order to win De Niro’s freedom, Statham must kill three accomplished operatives under the leadership of the unfortunately mustachioed Clive Owen.
Killer Elite aspires to a level of moral ambiguity far beyond its shaky command. Director Gary McKendry wants to explore the complexities of killing in the name of preventing further bloodshed, but the moral and political elements amount to little more than window dressing. At a seemingly endless 105 minutes, Killer Elite drags on so long that its own characters seem to be willing it to stop. The third act is littered with dramatic declarations that all of the conspiring and killing must stop; the characters are all clearly as bored with the double-crosses and complications as the audience is liable to be. Killer Elite ends with a disclaimer largely conceding that its claims of being based on a true story are suspect. That’s one final disappointment in a film full of them.