I have been called many things over the years, some of which are not meant for civilized eyes and ears.  One that I enjoy, though, has been cropping up more and more of late; evidently I am a “bro,” a term that carries with it a sort of new age masculinity that I’m totally fine with.  Part and parcel to the whole label is an appreciation of all things badass.  That, too, I’m completely on board with.

So when you tell me that I’m going to see a movie about globe-trotting super-assassins locked in a cat-and-mouse deathmatch of hunting and killing – and that on top of all that, it’s a true story – I naturally get a little giddy.  It’s a concept that makes me growl – not words, animalistic fervor – for about a half an hour.  “Where is woman?  I take her now.  I HAVE MADE FIRE.”  These are positive responses.

So how did it go so completely wrong?

This movie is Killer Elite, a film of deadly intrigue and semi-political murder spanning several countries as wells as Jason Statham’s chin.  The main character is Danny (Jason Statham), a full-bore assassin-for-hire who has just decided that he wants to get out of the killing game.  Right after he does so, however, he finds out that his mentor Hunter (Robert De Niro) has been kidnapped by a wealthy Omani family in exile, as a way of goading Danny to do a job for them.  The job, which Danny reluctantly accepts, involves tracking down three British ex-SAS operatives (read: bad dudes) and making them pay for supposed war crimes they committed years ago in a war gone sour.  When they start dropping, it gets the attention of Spike (Clive Owen), an ex-SAS man himself, who goes after Danny on behalf of a shadowy board of puppet masters that call themselves the Feathermen.  From there on it’s a shifting mosaic of strikes and ripostes, each man trying to rid himself of the whole bloody mess.

And it’s terrible.  There’s really no two ways about it.  I wanted this to be awesome… After all, that synopsis that I just wrote looks amazing, doesn’t it?  This is some Bourne Identity-level action and intrigue here, and we loved that shit.  But all the things that make a spy thriller enjoyable were almost completely absent from Killer Elite.  Where to begin?

First off, the plot contains a lot of simple logistical issues that are never dealt with.  Why did Hunter agree to take the job if he knew he wouldn’t follow through with it?  Why does Danny balk at killing anyone one minute and then the next decide it’s totally fine?  Why would seemingly everyone in the movie rather throw away money than keep it?  If Hunter is guarding someone, and they knew he’s guarding them, why does he feel the need to stay so far away that he constantly loses sight of them?  What in the world is the agenda of these “Feathermen,” and where do they get the authority and resources necessary to pursue it?  There are a few of these questions, and any one of them would be enough to ruin the movie.  But a whole bunch?  Forget it, this thing is beyond making sense.

The actors do the best they can with the horrific dialogue… But ultimately, they are but a handful of grizzled thespians fighting against a hackneyed dinosaur of a script the likes of which is seldom seen outside of a script readers’ blooper reel.  There is one – count it, ONE – truly great line in the whole movie, and even that is quickly ruined by the character’s totally unnecessary follow-up line.  The only exception to this box of failure is Robert De Niro, who proves himself (again and again) as one of the finest actors ever.  Somehow he is able to turn even the most basic procedural tripe into something believable and authentic.  But sadly, he is simply in the movie far too little.

The action scenes are fine, I guess, but honestly they’re just shoehorned in because they have to be there.  At no point was there any urgency or investment; I simply didn’t care who won the fights.  Both Spike and Danny are colossal pricks without any real depth, and I found myself silently wishing they would both die in a car fire.  That way they could unburden De Niro from dealing with their grade school philosophy and self-important antics.

Ah, and the love story.  Let me just say this: Danny’s love subplot was so unnecessary and poorly executed that for the first half of the movie, I honestly thought it involved time-travel, flashing back or forward significantly.  But it didn’t.  Ouch.

I gave Killer Elite the benefit of every doubt… It is the kind of movie I would usually love and bring near to my heart, and even I hated it.  It would almost certainly be a gigantic waste of your time.

1 out of 5 stars