09/21/2011 08:53 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2011

Movie Review: Killer Elite

Killer Elite is a serviceable action-thriller that eventually runs out of ideas. What starts as a complex tale with strong action set-pieces eventually dwindles to formula, unable to keep as many balls in the air as it promises.

It starts with a mission gone wrong: Two mercenaries, Danny (Jason Statham) and Hunter (Robert DeNiro), take out a target and wind up endangering a child. The shock of nearly getting a kid killed is enough to get Danny wounded and convince him it's time to leave the game altogether.

He retires to a secluded house in Australia, where he eventually pairs off with a young sheila who knows nothing about his violent past. But then he gets a summons: He has to travel to the Middle East to meet with a deposed and dying sheik. The sheik has taken Hunter hostage when he refused the sheik's job offer. So now the sheik forces Danny to do the job to save Hunter's life.

The assignment: Track down and kill a group of British special-forces officers who killed three of the sheik's sons. He not only wants them killed; he wants the deaths to look accidental, so there's no blowback on the sheik's surviving son.

So Danny puts together a crew of old comrades, made up of Dominic Purcell and Aden Young. They are able to accomplish their objective on two of the three men they're seeking - but they also attract the attention of Spike (Clive Owen), a retired special-forces guy who now carries out the bidding of a group of former intelligence officials to keep the past quiet and the future secure.

The idea of two teams of black-ops agents doing the cat-mouse thing is an intriguing one: tit for tat, cross and double-cross. But the script by Matt Sherring and director Gary McKendry eventually gives up on the idea of doing something unexpected, settling for increasingly elaborate but less exciting action sequences.

Still, it's not hard to be impressed when Statham fights his way free from his captors while tied to a chair. He actually does two somersaults with the chair strapped to him, including one out a window. Kudos to him and/or his stunt double.

Statham could be the Steve McQueen of a new generation. He's got the blend of normal-guy vibe and coolly aloof posture - a man of action who also has a sense of humor about himself and everyone else. One of these days he's going to make a truly exceptional action film - or at least one he can elevate in the way he did The Transporter and The Bank Job.

De Niro gives a shaggy, light-spirited performance for someone playing a character under constant threat of death. Owen, wearing a contact lens that makes one of his eyes look hinky, eschews his usual charm for a character who seems constantly to be seething.

It's a worthy cast. Unfortunately, Killer Elite isn't worthy of its cast. It's multiplex filler, maybe a grade above.

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