YOU'D expect a movie with Robert De Niro and John Travolta in it to come with more fanfare; especially since Killing Season marks the duo's first-ever on-screen pairing. But despite having two marquee names on the poster and a trailer that makes it look like an action-thriller, the movie really isn't your typical Hollywood blockbuster.
Which explains its slightly low-key same-day video-on-demand and cinematic release in America because underneath all that marketing is a grungy character drama where it's the dialogue - not the bullets - that's fired at machine-gun rate.
Travolta and De Niro play former Serbian soldier Emil Kovac and American war veteran/Nato officer Colonel Benjamin Ford respectively. Both have fought in opposite camps during the Balkan War, which is briefly shown in a flashback sequence at the start of the film.
Fast-forward a couple of years later and Ford is now living life as a recluse in the Appalachian Mountains, trying to recover from the trauma of the battle. However, his peace is disturbed when Kovac tracks Ford down to his cabin.
Posing as a European tourist, he gains Ford's trust and friendship quickly enough for both of them to become hunting buddies. But the moment they're alone in the great outdoors with their weapons, Kovac's real intention emerges as he seeks to settle an old score with Ford.
A sadistic cat-and-mouse game ensues as both men try to cause each other as much pain but stop just short of killing each other. Cue very graphic scenes of torture as the two maim each other in various icky ways including Kovac forcing Ford to pierce his own calf, the latter reciprocating by shooting an arrow through his ex-BFF's cheeks (before "helping" him to remove it), and a waterboarding scene where salted lemonade is poured over fresh wounds.
Mercifully, director Mark Steven Johnson (Grumpy Old Men, Ghost Rider) keeps those bits brief but the numbing violence is enough to churn stomachs. It's even more ironic to hear the characters spewing self-righteous philosophical takes on how wars are evil and nobody actually wins while they're doing all these bad things to each other.
The stock East-European-villain accent - the one they probably teach in Acting 101 - that an over-the-top Travolta adopts makes things unintentionally comical but De Niro fares a little better by being at his grumpy best; though one wonders if that's acting or actual regret for signing up for this.
Evan Daugherty's (Snow White and the Huntsman) story is slightly too cliched for Johnson to give it a proper arthouse treatment so Killing Season ends up in no man's land where it's a little too dark to be a mainstream action-thriller but also too light to have any sort of indie cred.
Strictly for Travolta and De Niro fans; or people who just want value-for-money when they select what to watch at the multiplex.