The most impressive achievement in director Gary McKendry's Killer Elite is its least pleasurable: finding a way to make an action-packed globetrotting hit man movie punctuated by muscles, guns and shit-eating snarls as dull as ditchwater. Even audiences after nothing more than a biff to the senses are likely to leave feeling as dudded as a sucker in a three card monte routine.
There is a pervasive sense of soullessness that washes over the film, a feeling that nobody believes in what they're doing or their ability to entertain -- from the walking-dead performances of Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro to a script that seems doggedly persistent on side-stepping any remotely consistent form of entertainment.
Statham, comfortable in caricature-of-himself mode, plays a jet-setting assassin who must send a hard goodbye in the direction of a bunch of former SAS killers to release his close friend and mentor, played by Robert DeNiro, from the clutches of a vengeful sheik.
DeNiro spends much of the film holed up in a dusty, dirty prison, shuffled onto the set for bookend appearances. It's an embarrassing performance that exists in the grey area between protracted cameo and supporting character. Like much of DeNiro's work over the last decade or so, seeing him in the role feels amusingly air-headed at first but dispiriting and sad later, like observing somebody hit by an early onset of senility.
The film jumps between locations -- London, Paris, the Yarra Valley, etcetera -- with virtually no sense of travel, as if the characters never moved cities despite the widely different backdrops. Perhaps it needed a travel montage scene, like Indiana Jones or TheMuppets -- the ones with a map and an arrow. But most of all, it needed momentum. How Killer Elite can geographically change locations so rapidly yet feel so stagnent is another of its curious achievements.
Killer Elite's Australian theatrical release date: February 23, 2012.