Borrowing its title from an unrelated Sam Peckinpah movie and its sensibility from the Bourne series’ brutal, prolonged fight sequences, Killer Elite pares down the action-espionage genre to the point where nothing remains except the gleeful infliction of pain. Even the nominal hero, Danny (Jason Statham), seems weary of it—in the wake of a botched hit in Mexico, he retires to an Australian farm, only to be compelled back to ass-kicking when he finds that his old partner (Robert De Niro) has been abducted by a sheikh. To free his pal, all Danny has to do is execute the British special-ops team that killed the sheikh’s sons, which might be an easier task were one of the Brits not played by Clive Owen, sporting the year’s most embarrassing mustache.
First-time director Gary McKendry does reasonably well by Killer Elite’s various set pieces, each of which involves a different style of extreme violence (as the sheikh insists that the deaths appear unrelated). But the film has the choppy, amped-up rhythm of its own trailer, as if desperate to skip past the boring parts and get to the next gouged eyeball. Monotony sets in before half the team has been dispatched; of the cast, only De Niro, taunting his captors and acting as a sort of Greek chorus, manages to transcend the grimly dutiful. If there’s one thing Peckinpah understood, it’s that violence is only as meaningful as the placidity it interrupts.