Killer Not So Elite

Don’t go to Killer Elite expecting a remake of the mid-70’s Sam Peckinpah movie, as I did. You won’t find it. What you’ll find is an international by-the-numbers shoot-em-up that hasn’t got an original bone in its body.

The set-up is promising. A dying sheikh lures a retired international assassin, played with typical menace by Jason Stathan, back to work by kidnaping his best friend, played by Robert DeNiro. The sheikh wants Stathan to kill the men who murdered three of his four sons. He’ll be paid well, and his friend will be set free. The only problem is the three killers turn out to be members of SAS, British Special Forces. And he doesn’t just have to kill them, he has to get them to confess to the murders on video. A number of different characters mule the exposition around, explaining to our antihero that SAS men are way too tough to die or to confess.

Which turns out not really to be true. That hissing sound you hear? That’s suspense leaking from the premise.

Yes, there’s some added interest when Clive Owen tries to track down our merry band of murderers, but that bristly little moustache Wardrobe has given him telegraphs everything we need to know: he’ll never succeed.

And now, if I may, I’d like a word with all you international mercenaries out there. I notice that you lot always do your planning in great big warehouses. First, do you really need all that space? You never use more than ten square feet of it. And in this case you used it for all of ten minutes. Did you buy or lease? Either way, was it a wise expenditure during these economically troubled times when surely even international gun-bunnies like yourselves need to pinch every penny? Any decent hotel will let a guest use a meeting room and provide you with all the whiteboards and flip charts you need (ice water and automatic weapons are extra).

And speaking of unnecessary expenses, your whole crew went to Oman just for a conversation. Have you never heard of Skype? Email? Instant Messaging? No? Time to join the 21st century, fellows. And do you always have to use the same travel agent—or any travel agent—to carry out your globe-trotting acts of mayhem? Think!

By the way, how’d you get 800-1,000 pounds of heavy ordinance back and forth through customs so many times?

While I’m at it, a brief word to the Feathermen, the secret British society of spies behind all the trouble. How secret do you think you’ll remain if you keep handing out those cute little calling cards? I know they only have the image of a feather on them, but don’t you think people will start to wonder?

Here’s how to make a movie like Killer Elite. Print out the following lines of dialogue, cut them apart, toss the slips in to the air, and whatever way they land on the floor—that’s your screenplay:

You ready for this?
I can’t do this anymore.
You may be done with killing, but killing’s not done with you.
We have to do something!
Let’s do this!
That’s not who I am; that’s what I’ve done.
This all ends today!
Game’s over.
There are no rules.
His kind don’t scare easy.
You have no idea who you’re messing with.
You played us!
You’re the one who got played.
This guy’s good.
He’s your worst nightmare.
You have no idea.
Let’s finish this!
Now the gloves are off.
Everybody gets found.
It wasn’t personal, just business.

Then add gun fights liberally, a few foot chases, a dash of exploding cars, and a smidge of girl-I-left-behind, and, well, by jingo, you’ve got yourself a movie.


Fast Five: How to Write an Action Movie

Fast Five OnesheetI’m a little slow getting around to Fast Five, which might seem to make me the wrong audience for this movie, which is all about speed and precise timing. I wasn’t sure I would like it because I thought it would be what some people call a “popcorn movie.” And in fact, it is. This isn’t a movie that will change your life or reveal something important about the human condition. It’s not a movie that expands the art and/or technology of filmmaking. The story is predictable. In fact, everything about the movie is predictable. It’s completely mindless, completely disposable.

And I’ve got to admit I loved it all. Does that make it a great movie? No. It’s trash. But it’s honest trash. It’s trash without pretense. For that, you have to give it credit.

Here’s how to write an action movie like this one:

      Cast actors with stone faces who can show flickers of anger or amusement when necessary. Nothing more is needed.

Have the characters take on “one last heist,” a piece of cake that will go terribly, terribly wrong.

Make sure your villain is from another culture.

Include treachery from within the ranks, followed by redemption and sacrifice.

Include one unlikely alliance with the enemy.

Include the line “We’re not going to make it” at a high point in the action.

Include the line “Go, go, go!” as necessary.

Include the line “Let’s do this” as the heroes make one last stand.

When it seems as though things can’t get worse for the good guys, make things get worse.

Arrange a showdown between the hero and the bad guys on an ascending scale of importance, saving the villain for last.

Sprinkle liberally with guns, chases, explosions, and beautiful women but no sex.

Despite the story’s transparency, the movie does one thing very well—action, which is, well, fast and furious. Our guys steal cars from a moving train. They shackle a huge vault to a couple of supercharged sports cars and haul it through the city while scores of police cars chase them.

Some of the stunts take your breath away. There’s a moment, shown in the previews, when Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drive off a cliff. I’m sure there are a hundred ways to do this with CGI, rear projection, hidden wires, and Criss Angel. But as the car pitches off the cliff, a small detail makes you forget all the artifice. Walker’s standing on the back of the convertible, holding on to the roll-bar. As the car falls out from under him, he seems to elevate slightly, his feet lifting off the back of the car. In other words, it looks as though the car is really falling from a great height.

I’m still hoping that movies will give women more to do than stand around and pout. Most of the women in Fast Five are interchangeable and thin to the point of anorexia. In fact, the men—especially Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson with all their pecs and glutes, etc.—have more curves than the women. When did this trend start, and why didn’t I get the memo?

Of course, the action is all outrageously unrealistic. So unrealistic that the moviemakers knew they needed a disclaimer. At the end of the movie, a title appears that reads, “The motor vehicle acts depicted in this film are dangerous.” Is that insane or what? I mean, who needs to be told that?

OK, OK, I admit that I revved my Prius a few extra times before leaving the parking lot. And yes, I even pulled a heist on my way home. Inspired by the chase scene with the vault, I hauled something off down the street. I’ll tell you what, that kid will think twice before he sets up another lemonade stand in my neighborhood!