“It’s a time of revolution, assassination and covert operation,” warns the intro text as Killer Elite opens on to a Mexico City assassination so brazenly improbable it’s like Expendables-lite.
Covert operation? There is absolutely nothing covert in Killer Elite, from the so-called “secrets” of the SAS, to the insistent grimace on Jason Statham’s face. Here is a place where all is overt, even when it’s trying desperately not to be.
Following the Mexican shoot-out, where Statham’s character - super-assassin Danny - decides to call it quits after he almost guns down a child (with a big-eyed stare revealed in a slo-mo camera shot reminiscent of the irresistible Puss-in-Boots close-up in Shrek), we race across to the Australian outback, where Danny is trying to live a testosterone-fuelled quiet life, chopping down giant oaks and seducing the local farm girl.
But bad guys track him down and coerce him back into the killing game by kidnapping his buddy and retired co-killer Hunter (an almost apologetically underplayed De Niro) and doing mean things like placing a bullet near his girlfriend’s pillow. Oooooh.
The bizarre thing about Killer Elite is that the Stath doesn’t do much killing at all. In fact, he’s actively trying not to kill people. Which is, of course, rather confusing.
And the middle section, in which we’re transported to a dreary 80s England where Danny’s ex-SAS targets are trying to kill him too, is disappointingly short on the explosions and big-budget fistfights you’d expect from a retro thriller.
Instead we are treated to death by insulin on the Brecon Beacons and a whole lot of Thatcherite mutton chops. These men are so sideburned it’s hard telling one from the other. Apart from the Stath, of course, who stubbornly retains his buzz-cut.