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  Killer Elite, The wrath of Caan
Year: 1975
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Stars: James Caan, Robert Duvall, Arthur Hill, Gig Young, Mako, Bo Hopkins, Burt Young, Tiana Alexandra
Genre: Action, Thriller, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Mike Locken (James Caan), a hardboiled security expert working for the shadowy organization Com Teg, is betrayed by his best friend, George Hansen (Robert Duvall), and left for dead. Years later, Mike is lured out of retirement to protect Yuen Chung (Mako), an Asian political leader. There is a contract out on Yuen Chung’s life, and the killer assigned to take him out is - yup, you guessed it - George Hansen. Mike ropes in his buddies, Mac (Burt Young) and trigger-happy Jerome Miller (Bo Hopkins) for a confrontation with Hansen, before the final, all-guns blazing showdown aboard a stricken Naval vessel against hordes of angry, sword-wielding ninjas.

Given the ingredients (spies, ninjas and the slow-mo action stylings of Sam Peckinpah), The Killer Elite isn’t anywhere near as exciting as it ought to be. Having been taken to task for self-indulgence in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), Peckinpah needed a career-revitalizing, mainstream hit like The Getaway (1972) had been. A frantic melange of James Bond and Enter the Dragon (1973) seemed just the ticket, yet what we have is a listless, frustrating experience that strives for satire, but suffers from a severe case of self-loathing. Peckinpah is clearly more at ease with early scenes portraying the friendship between Mike and George. Two men who share a house, a profession, and even women in an almost-homoerotic parody of the macho camaraderie from Peckinpah’s previous films. When they finally meet up again, they’re more like a divorced couple clinging onto the good times than a pair of world-weary spies.

“Here we go again”, groans Mike, as yet another ninja’s death charge crumples under machinegun fire. Mike is so cut up about George he treats Yuen Chung and his daughter, Tommie (Tiana Alexandra) with the same contempt Peckinpah reserves for kung fu and spy movie fans. When Chung delivers a stirring speech ands faces down his assassins, Mike responds with: “I never heard so much bullshit in my whole life.” Earlier, Tommie cosies up to Mike saying: “I’ve never been with a man before”, only for him to respond: “I don’t give a shit!” That would almost work as a send-up of cliché, if it weren’t delivered with such venom. Like his diffident, disagreeable protagonist, Peckinpah is fed up, going through the motions, and clearly doesn’t want to be here. It isn’t his worst movie (“We’ve got a great big Convoy (1978) ain’t she a beautiful sight! CONVOY!!!”), but proves he makes a lousy director-for-hire.

As most critics have pointed out, The Killer Elite is overlong and really ought to end when the central conflict - such as it is - between Mike and George is resolved. It has been claimed Peckinpah’s reoccurring theme of friendship betrayed amidst a changing world, is lost in the spoof kung fu plot that occupies the last fifteen minutes. Frankly, the movie needed it. Peckinpah claimed his preparation for the film consisted of watching Bruce Lee movies. His climactic sequence with ninjas leaping, shrieking and dying whilst Caan and co. go wild with machine guns momentarily shakes the movie out of its stupor. The restrictions of a PG rating mean Peckinpah cuts back on the bloodshed, while he originally intended to revel even further in absurdity. In a nod to Bertolt Brecht (whose influence on Peckinpah isn’t often acknowledged), Jerome Miller was meant to reappear miraculously alive after viewers saw him gunned down. The studio nixed that idea, but speaking of absurd… What kind of self-respecting ninja gets his ass kicked by Paulie out of Rocky (1976)?!
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Sam Peckinpah  (1925 - 1984)

American writer and director, a hard-drinking, producer-hating maverick who was as much reviled as he was admired. After a spell in the armed forces, he moved into television with a succession of westerns, and graduated to film with The Deadly Companions and cult classic Ride the High Country. When he worked on Major Dundee, the problems started, and, as would happen many times subsequently, the film was recut against his wishes.

In 1969, Peckinpah won huge respect for The Wild Bunch, which saw him employ the vivid, bloody violence that would become his trademark. He spent the seventies crafting a series of notable thrillers and westerns, such as the humorous Ballad of Cable Hogue, the reflective Junior Bonner, controversial Straw Dogs, hit Steve McQueen vehicle The Getaway, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, the intense, one-of-a-kind Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, The Killer Elite, WWII story Cross of Iron, and comparitively light hearted Convoy.

Throughout this decade, Peckinpah's reputation amongst studios dropped to such an extent that he could barely find work by the eighties, and his last film, The Osterman Weekend, represented an attempt to reclaim past glories. Sadly, he died shortly after it was completed, while planning to bring an original Stephen King script to the screen. As an actor, he can be seen in friend Don Siegel's Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Monte Hellman's China 9 Liberty 37.

 
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