Warrior, Gavin O'Connor, 140 mins (12A)<br/>Killer Elite, Gary McKendry, 116 mins (15)

Oh, the hero has connected with a haymaker of a clich&#233; &ndash; it's all over bar the credits
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It's the split-screen training montage that gives the game away.

For the first half of Warrior, you might be fooled into thinking that it's a gritty, blue-collar drama in the musclebound mould of The Wrestler, but once its heroes start their obligatory work-out sessions, it's clear that you're watching the most formulaic of Hollywood sports movies.

In its opening scenes, Tom Hardy, with the voice of Vin Diesel and a physique to match, turns up on the doorstep of his estranged father, Nick Nolte. Hardy hates him because he used to be an abusive drunk, but he wants the old man to train him in the anything-goes discipline of Mixed Martial Arts. Meanwhile, his brother, Joel Edgerton, is a happily married teacher in Philadelphia (the hometown of Rocky), but he's spent the family's mortgage money on his daughter's medical bills, so he supplements his income by, yes, doing some Mixed Martial Arts himself.

Reading that back, I'd admit that Warrior is a hokey underdog melodrama from Round One, but it seems real enough, partly due to the shaky, fuzzy cinematography, and partly due to the actors' commitment to their roles. Hardy, in particular, is sensational. His bestial ferocity not quite hiding the frailty of a frightened child, he's just a dab of make-up away from being Quasimodo or Frankenstein's monster.

But not even he can counteract the film's daftness when both brothers glide into an MMA tournament with a $5m prize, even though neither of them has any previous form. Just as MMA throws boxing, wrestling and karate together, Warrior slings in every imaginable sports movie cliché, from the unstoppable Russian man-mountain (Rocky IV, I believe) to the babbling ring-side commentators. Leaving nothing to chance, it piles on three different classical analogies (Diogenes, Beethoven, Moby Dick), and it has Nolte playing two types of bad father at once, condemned both for favouring one son over the other, and for being awful to the pair of them.

Warrior – an oddly singular title for a film with two protagonists – increases in ludicrousness right up to its finale. I won't spoil that finale, but if, hypothetically speaking, it involved the brothers fighting each other, it might leave you with the same shrugging sense of indifference that you get when the Williams sisters face off at Wimbledon.

There's even more testosterone sloshing around in Killer Elite, a film which offers the surreal sight of Jason Statham sharing a quiet dialogue scene with Robert De Niro. Sadly, this isn't a sign that Statham has ascended to the ranks of cinema's greatest actors, but that De Niro has sunk so low that he'll now turn up for the tawdriest of thrillers. Purportedly "based on a true story", Killer Elite stars Statham as a hitman, for the umpteenth time, who's paid by an Omani sheikh to assassinate three SAS veterans.

You'd assume that would make him the villain, but no: even though Clive Owen co-stars as a secret agent on Statham's trail, the film's sympathies lie with the perma-stubbled mercenary who's going around murdering British ex-servicemen. The only reason this plot doesn't feel sickening is that, Owen and Statham aside, no one in Killer Elite seems especially British. It was shot in Australia, which has to double, unconvincingly, for London and Oman, and the Aussie actors slog through the numbskulled dialogue using some of the most embarrassing Scottish, Welsh and English accents I've ever heard.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Helen Mirren develop her new career as a gun-toting action heroine in The Debt

Film Choice

Gary Oldman and a host of British thesps go undercover in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a magisterial reworking of the John le Carré espionage classic from 1974. The eerie Alfredo Castro plays a Chilean morgue official in Post Mortem, a film by Pablo Larrain that looks at the Pinochet coup from a surreal and grisly perspective.

Also Showing: 25/09/2011

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