Thursday, December 07, 2006
Peckinpah and ninjas don't mix
By Edward Copeland
What goes up, must come down. Since over the past year or so, I've been on a Sam Peckinpah binge, I've been trying to see all of his films that I'd missed. I think I could have skipped 1975's The Killer Elite and been none the worse for wear.
It's not that the film isn't without its moments, but they are few and far between and certainly don't justify its 2-hour running time. The plot — in brief — concerns hired assassins (James Caan, Robert Duvall) who work for a private company that it is implied carries out deeds for the CIA. However, Duvall's character pulls a doublecross early, killing someone they were assigned to protect and nearly crippling Caan.
That's about the first 15 minutes — then we endure more than 30 minutes of Caan's rehabilitation that seems like outtakes from Born on the Fourth of July only without the laughs. Soon, despite the insistence of his bosses (Arthur Hill, Gig Young) that his career is over, Caan is put back on the case to safely ship an important Japanese client (Mako) back home and to get a chance for revenge on Duvall as a fringe benefit.
Along the way, there are lots of martial arts and more doublecrosses and enough muddled story that I couldn't tell you with any sense of confidence exactly what the hell was going on. The Killer Elite proves sad to watch because you definitely see Peckinpah beginning to slide. His slow-motion violence, groundbreaking and poetic in The Wild Bunch, already seemed a cliche in the otherwise great Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. When he pulls it out for the martial arts fights in The Killer Elite, it ends up being downright laughable. Plunging slow-motion screams seem straight out of martial arts cheapies and shouldn't be in a Peckinpah movie. What does give the film a bit of a boost is once Caan assembles his team for his assignment. Bo Hopkins and, most especially, a hysterical Burt Young breathe life into the otherwise dull and disorienting picture. Young's scene alone with a motorcycle cop is priceless. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to save the entire film.