TIFF Review: Killer Elite

Killer Elite (2011, directed by Gary McKendry)

The fact that a Jason Statham film is a Gala might be the funniest joke this festival has ever played on its audience.

Now don't get me wrong: Killer Elite is a perfectly respectable Jason Statham film. It's not a fluffy piece of cartoony silliness like Crank, and even has delusions of importance, but the thought of people getting dressed to the nines and heading to the opera house TIFF uses for their Gala screenings to watch Statham and Clive Owen kick each other's ass is just hilarious. (Mind you, this year's Gala lineup also features a U2 doc, a Gerard Butler film, a Luc Besson film, and Madonna's directorial debut, so maybe it isn't that out of place after all...)

Anyway, the plot: Statham is an ex-SEAL and independent contractor in the '80s who leaves the business after a crisis of conscience. He gets dragged back in when his mentor (Robert DeNiro) is held hostage after failing to complete a seemingly impossible job for an exiled sheik: kill the three SAS bastards who killed the sheik's three eldest sons during the Oman conflict, but make all the deaths look like accidents. As if the job wasn't hard enough, the sheik wants videotaped confessions from all three, and a group of ex-SAS bigshots called the Feather Men quickly get wind of Statham's assignment and set their attack dog Spike (played by Owen) loose to stop him.

If Killer Elite reminded me of anything it was Ronin, and not just because DeNiro's in both. Now, that's not the compliment it might be from some people. I think Ronin's horribly overrated in some circles, and cool car chases (OK, REALLY cool car chases) don't make up for things like the utterly pointless Sean Bean subplot in my book. Killer Elite's story is more streamlined than Ronin's, but it's got the same 'mercenaries on a mission in a morally ambiguous universe' vibe and the same bloated sense of self-importance.

But it's also got Statham, and that goes a long way. The guy just can't help being cool on screen, no matter what he's doing (which in this case is mostly killing guys, planning to kill guys, or flashing back to shagging his hot new girlfriend back in Australia.) And it's also got Owen, who's in Sin City mode here: all barely suppressed rage and with a ridiculous moustache to boot. Those two alone make the film worth watching, although Dominic Purcell turns in a great supporting turn as one of Statham's crew, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje pops in too as their, for lack of a better word, dispatcher.

The script is wonky in spots (I dare you not to cringe when one of the Feather Men explains where their name comes from. I double-dog-dare you) and given that the film (or rather, the book that provides its source material) ludicrously claims to be based on a true story, it's kind of amazing that it works at all, but it does work. It's a perfectly respectable actiony-thrillery-conspiracy thing.

Just don't expect anything more than that.

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