'Killer Elite'

A mission into Middle Eastern shadows settles for efficient action over subtleties.

Killer Elite is half-interested in being a legitimate exploration of the shadowy world of former British special forces operatives but remains too afraid not to supply the clockwork doses of rote action and violence presumably expected by Jason Statham's international audience. As if wanting to be a genuinely good film -- such as The Bank Job, made by some of the same team -- but unwilling to let go of proven formulas, this muscular thriller gets the job done but is not all it might have been. Still, macho marquee bait and loads of visceral chases and close combat should spell lively business, especially overseas.

"Killing is easy. Living with it is the hard part," says Statham's Danny, who should know. A special-ops agent par excellence, Danny and his mentor, the aptly named Hunter (Robert De Niro), show what they're made of by pulling off a tricky motorized hit in the Mexico-set opening sequence.

But when he can't bring himself to finish off a young kid who's traveling in the caravan, Danny knows he's done and retires to an Australian farm to leave the past behind.

Fat chance. Some years later, in the 1980s, the trimly grizzled, self-contained Danny is lured to Oman, where Hunter is being held by an aging tribal sheik who will pay him $6 million -- and free Hunter -- if Danny will take out those responsible for the murders of three of the sheik's sons.

But, as with any suspense caper worth its salt, there are very particular conditions: The victims must confess on video to what they did, and each killing must be pulled off in a different style, to avoid any connections between them.

Thus starts the hunt, with a first stop in Paris, where Danny collects two cohorts, the can-do ex-paratrooper Davies (Dominic Purcell) and the technically minded Meier (Aden Young). The targets are all former members of Britain's secretive Special Air Service, who are protected by big shot senior veterans of the organization known as The Feather Men, which was the title of  the controversial 1991 "factional" novel by explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, which inspired the film.

Departing from the book, screenwriter Matt Sherring and debuting director Gary McKendry adhere to a stiff template rather than incorporating ironies, ambiguities and social insights. So it's best to lower expectations and just enjoy the spectacle of Danny and his boys tracking and dispatching their victims.

Release date Sept. 23 (Open Road)
Cast Jason Statham, Robert De Niro, Clive Owen
Director Gary McKendry
Screenwriter Matt Sherring
Producers Steve Chasman, Michael Boughen, Tony Winley, Sigurjon Sighvatsson