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Movie review: ‘Killer Elite’

There’s some grim diversion in watching Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro kill, kill, kill often while avoiding being killed, killed, killed in the fact-based but heavily hog-washed espionage thriller “Killer Elite.”

But the script is a mess. It’s an object lesson in taking a nonfiction book (“The Feather Men,” about a cadre of ex-British Special Air Service operatives) and making a hash of it. The higher the body count, the lower the human stakes.

When Statham utters “I’m done with killing,” that patented Statham just getting started, mate glare suggests otherwise. Statham plays Danny, a British “cash for trash mercenary” who, in a 1979 prologue set in Mexico, suffers a near-death experience and is saved by Hunter (De Niro), his American comrade in arms. That’s it. Danny’s done. Done with killing. And yet he is so not done!

After a respite in the Australian Outback, Danny is pulled back into the game when Hunter is kidnapped by an Omani chieftain out for revenge. The sheikh’s sons were casualties of the SAS involvement in the covert Oman War. The English “sent their fiercest dogs to kill for the sultan’s oil,” says the Sultan of Exposition early on. The sheikh demands that each of the SAS soldiers responsible for the deaths be eliminated.

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There’s an absorbing movie in this. But it doesn’t jibe, morally or narratively, with the movie’s other half, a reunion buddy picture about Danny gathering that old gang of his to do what must be done.

Shooting mostly in Australia (which doubled for Mexico, London and Paris, among other locales), first-time feature director Gary McKendry goes for a grubby, Paul Greengrass-style of hand-held action, but he doesn’t yet have the facility or the visual lucidity for it. Owen plays an SAS assassin of uncertain loyalties, both an ally and an enemy. Matt Sherring’s script is the real culprit here, however. By the time Danny’s lover (Yvonne Strahovski) delivers the inevitable “I don’t know where you go … I don’t know what you do” line, you’re asking yourself other things, such as: When will De Niro get that part allowing him to fully revitalize his formidable talent?

mjphillips@tribune.com


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