Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kill Me Now

So I'm wondering what the difference is between 2011 releases Killer Elite and The Mechanic. Both are simple action films starring English superstar Jason Statham. Both feature mercenaries, lots of gunfire, explosions and almost criminal amounts of bloodletting. But there is one major difference between the January-released The Mechanic and the more recent Killer Elite, and that is the fact that the newer release brings in primo acting talent to pad it's roster. Okay, that's something of an over-simplification. Sure, the earlier film paired Statham with legitamite talents in Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland, but neither man is a real headliner; Foster has never really been the front man of a hit film, and Sutherland will appear pretty much wherever he's told these days. So it's supposedly a big step forward when Clive Owen and Robert De Niro reveal themselves as the action hero's new castmates, and are the biggest reason people were given to see this in the theaters over a number of other uninspiring fall releases. Sure, Owen hasn't really been a big deal since 2004's Closer, but nobody who has ever seen him perform can deny his talents. And De Niro is always a draw, even though he hasn't had to really "act" in decades. Now we damand an answer to the question of which is better: the under-the-radar The Mechanic, or Killer Elite, with much more expected in turn?

Don't worry about acting; just do your usual thing
Based on the 1991 novel The Feather Men by adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Killer Elite takes us to 1980 and introduces us to retired mercenary Danny Bryce (Statham). After a Mexican operation gone bad, Danny steps away from the business, returning to his native Australia and into a romantic relationship with childhood friend Anne Frazier (Yvonne Strahovski). One year later he is dragged back into the business when his former colleague, an American named Hunter (De Niro), fails to perform a $6 million job for an exiled Sheik and is henceforth captured. Holding Hunter as ransom, the Sheik and his agent force Danny to take the job Hunter defaulted on, the assassination of three British Special Air Service agents responsible for the murders of the Sheik's sons during conflict in Oman. Danny reluctantly agrees, but killing the agents gains the attention of a shadow group of former SAS known as Feather Men and their ruthless field agent Spike Logan (Owen). Soon Logan is hunting down Danny and his band of fellow assassins, and soon it is killer versus killer as Danny fights to free his friend while Logan fights to put Danny six feet under.

Not your average attractive one-noted female character
For an action film, Killer Elite doesn't do too poorly in that department when it comes to the visual splendor. While many of the fight scenes are shot up close to obscure the action (and Clive Owens' stunt doubles, surely), it's thankfully not done to the point where you can't follow what is happening on the screen. Statham is as fun to watch as a physical performer now as when he broke out in the action scene in 2002's The Transporter, and dominates every action scene presented. There are a few non-Statham action scenes that are poorer by comparison, but still manage to convey the excitement intended. While there are a few scenes that are completely unrealistic even for the genre (such as Hunter taking down an enemy at a distance with a silenced pistol), most of the film at least maintains a good sense of realism, which is important when you're claiming to be based on a true story.

In the 80's, shitty mustaches were far more forgiven
Acting-wise, this is no great collection of personalities, despite the addition of big-name performers Owen and De Niro. Statham is... well... Statham. He fights, growls his dialogue in a menacing fashion ninety percent of the time, and is charming enough to guarantee more of these roles in the future. Anyone expecting the action star to be different from any of his dozens of previous characters would be sorely disappointed, but Statham is comforting to his fans in that he's always a reliable presence. Owen is also sold, though this role might be more remembered more (if at all) for his terrible mustache and "blinded" eye than his actual acting ability. Let's face it, Owen's Hollywood career has never been great, though he has held some solid supporting roles alongside much more established stars. This is another example of that. At least this is more than Robert De Niro brings to the table. De Niro's Hunter is a hitman from Brooklyn (or the Bronx, whatever), which would be fine if it didn't seem like every film in the past decade not co-starring Ben Stiller has had him in that role. De Niro at one point in his career was considered an exciting, strong personality, but his inability to stretch himself in any capacity is the most epic form of laziness, and here he does little more than deliver throwaway dialogue to garner some chuckles from the audience. Better is Yvonne Strahovsky as Danny's love interest. For a nice change, the female role in a Jason Statham film is no one-dimensional hanger-on or degrading lady of the night. Strahovsky plays the normal girl next door, and while she doesn't steal the film by any means, the interactions between her and Statham (and in one case, her and De Niro) are a nice change from the rest of the story. If anything, her effective use adds a layer of humanity to the film that it would not possess otherwise.

Of course you know Statham will get the better of this situation
Unfortunately, there are only a few truly memorable moments (such as Statham defeating two enemies while strapped to a chair) throughout the course of the film. Most of Killer Elite is what you'd expect, not straining from the conditions of the action genre in any fashion. So which 2011 Statham film is better? Well, Killer Elite might feature Owen and Strahovsky in solid supporting roles, but that is offset by the generic story and Robert De Niro in general. The Mechanic had a weaker cast, but Ben Foster is a talented performer, if a somewhat ignored one. It also made for no less a ridiculous yarn, but at least did not try to proclaim that it was based on a true story, making it better than it's September predecessor. While occasionally entertaining, there's nothing new or interesting about Killer Elite, a film that you should only see if you're desperate for an action film and have already scavenged the Action section of your local rental place.

No comments: