You’ve heard people boast they could beat someone up with one hand tied behind their back before. In “Killer Elite,” Jason Statham beats two guys up with both of his hands tied behind his back, while the rest of him is tied to a chair. That’s a picture of the scene above. Look at that. Jason Statham, tied to a chair, beats the crap out of a guy who is not tied to a chair. That is awesome. He is awesome. And “Killer Elite” is awesome enough, in scenes like that, that it doesn’t really matter that it’s insanely, pointlessly complicated. Jason Statham beats up two dudes while he’s tied to a chair. That is satisfaction.
Actually, there’s more to like about this movie than the single coolest fight scene of the year. One of two men the chairbound Statham is tussling with is Clive Owen, who brings a lot of intensity to the role of Statham’s primary antagonist in the film. Every scene these two share together — and there aren’t many, unfortunately — crackle with antagonistic energy. They just look like they genuinely hate each other in a way that goes beyond the animosity between characters who, as we’ll get to, don’t really have a lot to fight over. It’s like these two guys were up for the same part in something, and one got it and the other didn’t, and they never let it go, and now years later they finally worked it out onscreen. Statham and Owen were born to beat the shit out of each other. They should be in ten more movies together where they fight whilst attached to various types of furniture.
The third member of this impressive cast is Robert De Niro, and it is he who sets this whole narrative contraption into motion. He plays Hunter (First name? Last name? PSN login?), former partner of Statham’s special agent Danny Bryce. After a hit gone bad, Danny officially retires. He’s pulled back into things when Hunter is kidnapped by an Omani sheik. To save his friend, Danny must kill the men of Britain’s Special Air Service who killed the sheik’s sons. But doing so brings Danny and his crew to the attention of a shadowy organization of British elites named “The Feather Men.” The Feather Men, all former SAS veterans themselves, want to protect their own, and send Owen’s Spike (First name? Last name? Cable television channel product integration?) to kill Danny.
These Feather Men are a hoot. They hold secret meetings in their clubhouse on the set of the movie “Clue” where they do absolutely nothing except explain who the Feather Men are for the benefit of the audience. “That’s why we’re called The Feather Men,” one proclaims to Spike. “Because our touch,” pause for dramatic effect, “is light!” That’s ridiculous! Not only is the line itself ridiculous, the sheer existence of any line in that situation is ridiculous. Why is he describing who the Feather Men are to a group of Feather Men? Shouldn’t they be fairly familiar with the concept of the organization since they are the only people in it? I’m still laughing at that line, and I saw this movie two weeks ago.
The oil sheik, the Feather Men, the forced allusions to the modern war on terror (the film is set about thirty years ago), they’re all needless distractions from the main event: Statham (and occasionally De Niro) kicking ass on Owen and company. You know how I know they’re needless distractions? Because none of them appear for even a frame in the trailer for “Killer Elite” and it all still makes perfect sense without them. Actually, the movie might make even more sense without them; the various factions and backstories and allegiances all become a wee big complicated for a film that’s ultimately about Jason Statham chairfighting guys.
Still, the good stuff is good enough to recommend the film. Statham delivers yet another satisfyingly ferocious performance, and his athleticism and physicality in the fight scenes remain amongt the best of his generation. Director Gary McKendry is clearly from the Paul Greengrass school of chaos cinema but he keeps things coherent enough to follow what’s going on. A lot of that has to do with Statham who, of course, can do many of the stunts himself, requiring less cutaways and editing. You should see him in that scene with the chair, man. It’s an instant classic.