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When people think of Jason Statham, the bald, brawny Brit, they think explosions, gunfire and generally crimson-soaked landscapes. What is usually pushed to the proverbial backburner of discussions surrounding Statham is what a talented actor the man is when given the opportunity to save some ammo and unleash his charm instead. From his low-budget beginnings to his high profile, glossy escapades of late, Handsome Rob’s filmography easily breaks into two camps: entertaining or painful. With his loose remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson thriller The Mechanic due in theatres Friday, Player Affinity will take a quick glance back at this action star’s many offerings.
-- The Good --
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The first of three Guy Ritchie/Statham projects, “Lock Stock” marked debuts for both talents and introduced former football player Vinnie Jones to the world. Excessively violent and wonderfully ironic, the cast was able to sell the concept to audiences overseas making it one of the biggest international hits of the year. Accents run so thick at times we almost need subtitles, but the charisma on display makes this an infinitely satisfying exhibition of black humour and messy mayhem.
First off props to director Guy Ritchie for naming a movie Snatch, and second props to him for sticking with a young Statham, propelling him into the spotlight with their second collaboration in two years after “Lock Stock.” As Turkish (a young boxing promoter), Statham added his usual flair to this star-studded hyper-stylized crime comedy. After Snatch, dear Jason would go onto bigger (though certainly not better) things but to this day this remains one of his best (if not his best) roles.
Crank: High Voltage
After the flawed but deliriously kinetic experiment that was Crank, there was little question about how to proceed with the sequel: go even more apeshit. That is precisely what the directing duo Neveldine/Taylor did. Though equally flawed, “High Voltage” goes so over the top it masks its deficiencies more effectively than the comparatively “tame” original. Statham is on screen for the entire duration as the seemingly invincible Chev Chelios who needs to shock himself to make his mechanical heart run and he sells his performance every step of the way. This is one crazy film.
The Bank Job
After years of Americanized action romps, 2008 saw Statham take a step back with the more cerebral English heist thriller, The Bank Job. The film had a soft $6 million opening at the time of its March release, but went on to gross more than five times its debut take as positive word spread. This is a low key, sophisticated little film which despite its generic title won over critics and audiences in kind and at least hopefully reminded audiences why Statham was a star to begin with.
Even with a so-so script in his hands, Statham is supremely capable of making us believe he could pound our faces into the equivalent of mashed potatoes with just his pinkies. He is at his corpse-accumulating best in Sly Stallone’s action-stuffed hit from last year as Lee Christmas, the knife-tossing right hand man to Stallone’s Barney Ross. Personally, Statham was my favourite part of The Expendables, showing off his slick martial arts moves in addition to sending white hot lead the way of his enemies, again showing why he is a staple of the modern action genre.
The Italian Job
Another sleeper hit on Statham’s resume, The Italian Job (along with The Bank Job) indicated that the heist genre may be his golden goose (that or any movie with the word “job” in it). Just a supporting player in Mark Wahlberg’s funky bunch of vengeful thieves, Statham grabbed a number of the film's laughs as Handsome Rob, the ladykilling speed freak. A sequel to this 2003 crowd pleaser has been “in the works” since that time, though The Brazilian Job seems to be just another victim of development hell and will likely never see the light of the silver screen -- a shame.
-- The Bad --
Many may argue that the original Crank was superior to its follow-up, but as I iterated in the category above, I do not carry that like opinion. This messy but often highly enjoyable film sees Chev Chelios’ first less-than-favourable run-in with trouble after he is injected with a poison that will kill him if his heart rate dips too low. Like a more fleshy version of Speed, he bolts around the city trying to keep himself alive while laying down bloody vengeance on those that wronged him. Crank marked an action-heavy deviation from Statham’s “Transporter” franchise and thanks in part to frenetic direction and a big concept, he was able to make a hit out of this bizarre little feature.
Statham rarely plays the villain, but 2004’s thriller Cellular saw him portray just that as he orchestrates a kidnapping while unbeknownst to him his victim (Kim Basinger) has made a connection to a stranger (Chris Evans) on a hidden cell phone. Between the police Sergeant (William H. Macy) assigned to the case, Statham doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but what he does get is used in effective, sinister fashion. This is a very slight and unimposing little flick which while certainly not bad slips easily from the memory. You could do worse on a Sunday night though.
The Transporter, Transporter 2
The “Transporter” franchise was Statham’s big break stateside, playing the lead role of Frank Martin, the suave delivery man of “packages” with no questions asked. With the addition of Amber Valletta and Kate Nauta for the sequel, things picked up slightly but both remain the epitome of disposable entertainment. The highlights of the franchise are the hand-to-hand fight scenes mimicking a Jackie Chan-style technique where nearby objects become deadly weapons when placed in Martin’s skilful hands. If anything these films serve as the breakout for the
Statham’s second of three collaborations with Jet Li, War plays out just as the title promises with a duel between an FBI agent (Statham) and the assassin who killed his partner (Li). There are good scenes in this action-packed offering and an interesting (if ludicrous) twist to wind things up. Like any revenge film, War offers nothing but empty calories and makes mostly poor use of its charismatic leading man. Unlike the “Crank” and “Transporter” series’ War is devoid of a sense of humour, which strips Statham of a portion of his appeal. Like the real thing, one war is enough.
-- The Ugly --
Things spiralled downhill quickly for the series by the time of the third instalment, which seemed to strip away all semblance of fun and spunk leaving audiences with a mirthless slog which served as an uncommon misstep for Statham. A new director in the form of Olivier Megaton had a poorer handle on action than did Louis Leterrier who helmed the first two. Toss in a horrendous performance from non-actress Natalya Rudakova along with simple franchise fatigue and you have another victim of the threequel (plus the series wasn’t especially strong to begin with).
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
The reason why Jason Statham would choose to align himself in any capacity with Uwe Boll escapes me. The man must be one persuasive s.o.b. as he also managed to grab hold of John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds and Ray Liotta as well (I’m sure a paycheck was involved). This “adaptation” could be the closest Boll has come to making a “so bad it’s good” flick (thanks in no small part to its cast), but this certainly marks rock bottom for Statham’s career.
A rare Guy Ritchie misstep, this utter mess reunited the filmmaker with his muse seven years after they first collaborated. Revolver feels more like a parody or imitation of a Ritchie movie far more than a film made by the man himself, and whether this was an attempt to go back to his roots or not, it deserves its place in a supermarket bargain bin. Statham gives a non-performance even though he is back in his element, so to speak, along with Ray Liotta (are you beginning to see some trends?) Andre Benjamin and Mark Strong. Hey, at least it’s not Swept Away.
Ghosts of Mars
I think it unnecessary to heap much more criticism on this mess from horror veteran John Carpenter than has accumulated since its release, but let me just say that Statham could not have had a much less auspicious North American debut. Had people touted this as an early career ender, it would be hard to come up with a compelling counter argument. The eclectic cast (Jason included) could do nothing to save this disastrously constructed genre hybrid; empty explosions and cheesy “scares” were not a flattering fit for the future star.
Statham’s first teaming with the agile Jet Li, The One is all over the place if not without a sense of gleeful ridiculousness. Statham again finds himself in a supporting role as a government agent tasked to bring down the dimension-hopping murderer played by Li. The fighting in The One is ironically muted by its excessive flair. Two super-beings having a smackdown should not be a dull endeavour. It is easy to forget Statham even had a role in this sci-fi martial arts hybrid; hell it’s pretty easy to forget this film in its entirety.