September 25, 2011


More articles by »
Written by: Mitch Salem
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

KILLER ELITE:  Watch It At Home – Neither Killer Nor Elite


The new KILLER ELITE takes little from Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 action movie apart from its title (Peckinpah used “The” in his) and the general notion of mercenaries and ex-spies double-crossing each other.  This isn’t a huge loss, as the 1975 version was part of Peckinpah’s “fascinating but not good” period that also included Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (he essentially turned the movie into an allegory about Hollywood), which occupied the years before his career entered its final decline.   The 2011 reboot, directed by Gary McKendry in his feature debut, is considerably less fascinating and no better.


The script, written by McKendry and Matt Sherring, is based on a non-fiction book called “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes (in what was presumably a shared joke, that name is given to one of the assassins’ targets in the film).  The fictionalized premise is nothing if not convoluted.  in 1980, Danny (Jason Statham) is a mercenary who’s had a crisis of conscience and retired to a farm in Australia, where he re-meets a comely lass (Yvonne Strahovski, from Chuck) he’d known as a boy.  Of course, no movie mercenary is allowed to stay retired for long, and soon a sheik has kidnapped Danny’s best friend Hunter (Robert DeNiro), and the ransom is that Danny has to perform the task Hunter was originally hired to do:  assassinate 3 British ex-SAS agents who had each killed one of the sheik’s sons in the Oman war years earlier, but not before getting each of them on tape confessing to his particular killing.  Oh, and each murder has to look like an accident

Danny, with the help of 2 associates (Dominic Purcell and Aden Young), gets to work eliminating the killers of the sheik’s sons.  But the killings soon arouse the attention of the “Feather Men” (because their touch is light as–figure it out), a fellowhood of former SAS agents whose enforcer is Spike (Clive Owen).  Spike sets out to track down and kill the assassins.


None of this, as directed by McKendry, is very exciting.  There’s one rote action scene after another (the one fun scene, where Statham has to fight while bound to a chair, is showcased in the trailer), and the attempts to juice things up in the last reel with a succession of double-crosses doesn’t help.  Also, the third act hinges on Danny, who had previously been completely honorable in all his actions, doing something sneaky that’s both unconvincing and stupid, because inevitably he’s going to be found out.  Danny is the only character who gets any kind of development, and his story is completely cliched; Spike is a complete cipher, making the duel between the two one-sided.  The nature of the plot means that Statham’s talent for grim humor is rarely in play, and while Owen seems committed to his role, he only shares one scene with Statham in the first two-thirds of the film.  DeNiro seems to be enjoying his paycheck in a small role, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbale is pungent as the mercenaries’ untrustworthy agent.

Killer Elite is competent enough, but it mostly feels as tired as its characters are of the grind of killing and chasing other killers, and it’s hard to feel very gripped by the proceedings when the only stakes are whether the expressionless Danny will get his fairy-tale girl.  The picture doesn’t have the spark of Statham’s Crank movies, much less the quality one associates with Owen or DeNiro (we do still associate DeNiro with “quality,” right?).  The first movie to be released by the new distributor Open Road is hardly an auspicious start; Killer Elite couldn’t be more skippable.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."