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Jason Statham Keeps the Spirit of Classic Action Movies Alive

By James Field | Film | September 22, 2023 |

By James Field | Film | September 22, 2023 |


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In honor of The Meg 2’s success and this week’s release of Expend4bles, let me start by saying yes, the rumors are true. Jason Statham is my movie idol. Some go so far as to say man-crush. Can you blame me? Not only is he grizzled, good-looking, funny, and topped with a dome you can see your reflection in, but he’s carrying half the weight of both summer spectacle and B action movies on his rippling shoulders. Since 2000 he’s put out 1 to 4 movies every. single. year. And he’s done it without moaning about how hard he works or using “method acting” as an excuse to get high on his own farts like Daniel Day-Lewis and Jared Leto. He’s done it without abusing his crew or reports of sexual misconduct. He’s done it without saying something mean about trans people, people of color, or his co-stars. And though he’s now part of several franchises - my theory is that the Fast, Expendables, and Meg worlds will one day collide when they realize Shaw\Christmas\Jonas is the key to saving the multiverse — he’s so far done it without putting on tights and a mask. 2023 alone saw the release of films in all 3 movie universes, and the delayed release of Operation: Fortune. He is inescapable.

I first saw Statham in 2000’s Snatch. Being a Yankee country boy meant I’d missed Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and wouldn’t discover it for several years. In the meantime I saw Statham again in Ghosts of Mars (meh) and The One, which remains one of my favorite cheesy action movies despite Statham’s haircut. Then 2002 brought The Transporter. God, do I love The Transporter, almost as much as Crank. It’s perfectly dumb, like a yellow lab that knows martial arts. You’ve got Statham as Frank Martin, an anal retentive getaway driver with chiseled good looks and a heart of gold. The stunning Shu Qi as the lying Lai, Ric Young slumming it as her cartoonishly evil father, François Berléand happily earning a paycheck as affable Inspector Tarconi, and an insane performance from Matt Schulze as “Wall Street,” the murderous human trafficker, who gives off all kinds of mixed signals - does he want to murder Frank or screw him? It remains unclear. Many things are unclear in The Transporter. Why does everyone fire tracer rounds? What did Frank plan to do with the bike cops who conveniently blew up? Who leaves an open 50-gallon barrel of motor oil sitting around? How exactly does one parachute from a prop plane and land on a moving trailer truck? The answer to all of these is the same: it doesn’t matter.

The Transporter led to The Italian Job and what’s come to be a pattern for Statham; every few years he’s in a major production with recognizable costars, broken up by mostly interchangeable B-quality action movies. The former includes The Expendables, Death Race (technically fits both categories), Parker, the Fast franchise, Homefront, and Spy. The latter includes movies with names like Revolver, Blitz, Safe, and Wild Card. Statham’s usually saddled with a ridiculous name like Nick Wild or Phil Broker and is a man with a mysterious, violent past down on his luck until he finds a damsel or small child to protect, sometimes both. They’re a return to the classic action movie format of the 1980s and 90s in a way that’s otherwise difficult to find without turning to equally great Asian cinema. Don’t get me wrong; I love Keanu’s John Wick, and there’s a place for the CGI spectacle of the superhero movie industry. But cut away all the lens flare, motion capture, and EDM soundtracks and strip the story to its basic “one reluctant warrior against the world,” and that’s Statham’s niche. He has 2 basic settings; suave charm, and bloody furious. In both he has an effortless physical presence that Tom Cruise went for in Reacher and the M:I movies, but only achieved in Collateral. Statham’s angry stalk across the screen in Crank became emblematic of the energy he brought to his films, when he wasn’t the cool professional in The Mechanic and Wrath of Man. By the way, if you’re getting the impression I grade Statham movies on a more generous curve than some of the other staff, you’re right and I feel no shame. It helps that he’s fit without having a body that looks sculpted from roast beef (Stallone, Johnson), and isn’t so old viewers worry his bones will shatter with every punch (Neeson, Stallone again). But both those descriptions ignore Statham’s secret weapon; he’s funny as f-ck.

It makes movies like Wrath of Man, one of Statham’s few duds, stand out. The script’s utter humorlessness turns Statham into a robot without any of his vitality or charm. The fact it comes from Guy Ritchie, who previously used Statham’s natural talent to such great effect, makes it all the more inexplicable.

But Statham’s best feature might be that you never hear from the man unless he’s on the screen or giving a promotional interview. Google “Jason Statham gossip,” and all you’ll find are some red carpet and public dining photos of Statham and his long-time girlfriend, fiancée, supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. No DUI’s, no public shouting matches, nothing. How did he feel about masking mandates? How does he vote? I have no idea! “Shutting the f-ck up is free” is a sentiment often voiced on Pajiba, and it’s a mantra Statham takes to heart, alleviating the need for mealy-mouthed apologies. It’s the perfect transactional relationship.

Statham approaches his craft with the blue-collar attitude with which he grew up. The man does his job, cashes his checks, and otherwise stays out of the public eye. He plays well with others, adding to his ensemble films without demanding center stage. His solo ventures are reminiscent of a competent home carpenter’s dining set; there are no-frills, few artistic flourishes, but they are well-made and perfectly suited for their purpose. Even when the film in question is pure nonsense - and as much as I adore The Meg and its sequel I can’t claim they’re else - Statham makes it work. After this week’s release of Expend4bles Statham has several more projects already in the pipeline, including The Beekeeper, one of his typical solo projects written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by David Ayer, and Viva La Madness, a 10-part netflix crime comedy based on the book by J.J. Connolly and a sequel of sorts to 2004’s Layer Cake starring Daniel Craig. It should allow Statham to stretch both his acting and comedy chops, and it’s one I’m really looking forward to. He’ll also return as Deckard Shaw in the next Fast X installment, and is no doubt beavering away quietly on a few more surprises. One thing’s for sure; you never have to wait too long to see Statham grace the screen once again.

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