The promise of a thriller with a sexy, all-star cast of Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro is enough to whet the appetite for a trip to the cinema. Debut writer-director Gary McKendry’s adaptation of Ranulph Fiennes’ novel, The Feather Men, should be the action man’s version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this week. The big names are all present in Killer Elite, as are the dramatic stunts and action sequences, but all within an overly complex, erratic thriller framework that has moments of viable tension, but others of dramatic silliness.

When Danny’s (Statham) mentor Hunter (De Niro) is taken captive by a Sheik in Oman, the retired member of Britain’s Elite SAS is forced into action to free him by taking the lives of three assassins. But Danny’s mission is not to run smoothly, especially with an equally skilled killer, Spike (Owen), on his tail.

There’s no doubt that Statham, Owen and De Niro perform as expected in roles we have seen them in before, and you can happily get your fill watching them do what they do best in a testosterone-fuelled explosion of bullet-riddled mayhem that’s pure old-school. Witnessing Statham meeting Owen head to head – once while tied to a chair – is what action sequences are made for, and there is a nice Paris Metro chase scene involving De Niro, too. Indeed, to add to the thrills and claret spills, Dominic Purcell as ‘gun for hire’ playboy Davies also raunchily captures the chauvinistic and on-the-edge nature of a trained killer for hire in the decadent 80s. The film’s mix is a gritty one of extreme violence with smatterings of ironic humour.

However, even with the reassuring ‘based on a true story’ line at the start and the rather topical element of a corrupt Arab leader settling personal grudges, McKendry’s stab at the genre is left more than unintentionally comical at times, mainly due to some poor script writing – one example being Spike’s meetings with a bunch of old secret service men that roll out every clichéd line in the thriller handbook. Another is the Indiana Jones-styled desert chase scenes and others involving the Sheik in his lair.

McKendry’s plot is riddled with holes and often lacks explanation, while it jumps around so much that the only thing you can engage with are the set-pieces of daring action. Even some of these are borderline gratuitous, rather than adding to the tension created when killers come after killers. The whole affair smacks of film-making inexperience, which is a shame considering the wealth of the source material and talent.

At the very least, McKendry allows us to revel in and be entertained by his star cast – the only advantage of this woefully under-developed exploitation action-thriller. The tragic thing is thinking just how much better it could have been in more experienced hands.