In Defence Of… Jason Statham
“Whoah, Jase! I asked if you had any ‘gum’…”
‘Parker’ rolls into cinemas this weekend, and you’ll never guess what – Jason Statham is out for revenge. It’s true, the man who brought us such complex characters as Chev Chelios, Lee Christmas and ‘Handsome Rob’ has become a bit of a punchline for movie connoisseurs since his breakthrough in the early 2000s, but a closer look at his career shows an actor that deserves to be respected, if not cherished.
EXHIBIT A: Exactly What It Says On The Tin
At some point, every action actor tries something new. Wesley Snipes did drag (‘To Wong Foo…’), Stallone said ‘Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot!’, and Arnie got pregnant with Danny DeVito. I think we can all agree these were flawed ventures at best. Not so Statham, whose sole brush with comedy thus far has been an uncredited cameo in the disastrous ‘Pink Panther’ remake. Indeed, bar the odd voice role for animation or video games, he has stuck to the formula that makes the most of what he has.
While it’s wonderful that the new generation of multi-talented stars (Ryan Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy) are letting the bullets fly in dark dramas one minute and prat falling in rom-coms the next, there is something reassuring about an actor who delivers exactly the same thing every time. Tall, gravel-voice, and muscled but not to the ‘roided out excess of the 80s action clique, with Jason Statham in the leading role you can be sure of three things – (1) He will be bald (an odd point perhaps, but how many times have you stared at the strange creations on Nicolas Cage’s scalp). (2) There will be car chases. Lots of car chases. (3) A lot of people are going to get kicked/elbowed in the face (by Statham himself – the martial arts expert and, oddly, former professional diver does all his own stunts). In an industry where wrestlers become tooth fairies, it’s a welcome comfort.
EXHIBIT B: Everyone Wants To Work With Him
Of course, the older action fraternity are clamouring to work with him – he plays Stallone’s right-hand man in the ‘Expendables’ movies, and even the notoriously difficult Jean Claude Van Damme expressed a desire to star alongside Statham when he agreed to appear in that film’s guns-and-gags ridden sequel (although the approval of the mulleted Coors spokesman is dubious praise at best). However, bigger names have already started popping up in his movies, and not in cash-grab cameos, either. British indie darling Paddy Considine (star of Shane Meadows’ harrowing ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’) played his partner in ‘Blitz’, while on the other side of the Atlantic, up-and-comer Ben Foster (‘Alpha Dog’, ‘The Messenger’) played his apprentice in the remake of ‘The Mechanic’. Behind the camera, Luc Besson, Michael Mann and Guy Ritchie have all seen fit to put him in their movies.
Perhaps the biggest stamp of approval came when acting royalty Robert De Niro appeared with him in the film ‘Killer Elite’ (also starring Clive Owen with a ridiculous moustache). Granted, the film may not rank alongside ‘Raging Bull in the World’s Greatest Actor™’s CV, but the legend presumably still has his pick of roles, underlining the attraction of the British actor in the film industry.
EXHIBIT C: Everyone Wants To See Him
Since 2010, Statham’s movies combined have made just shy of 1 billion dollars. That’s right – a billion. With a ‘B’. This puts him on a par with stars such as Hugh Jackman and even everyone’s favourite Scientologist Tom Cruise over the same period.
We know what you’re saying – box office doesn’t equal quality (the ‘Alvin and The Chipmunks’ movies have made well over that amount). And perhaps that’s true, but it does indicate demand. One only needs to glance at the recent failures of Schwarzenegger and Stallone (whose ‘comeback’ movies ‘The Last Stand’ and ‘Bullet To The Head’ flopped miserably everywhere they went) to know that few people are queuing up for the more traditional type of action movie these days, making Statham something of a rarity in the current effects-riddled studio climate.
Perhaps Statham’s greatest mark of achievement, however, is that most of this success has come in America. He has become a leading man with repeated hits at the US box office under his belt. Even disregarding ‘The Expendables’ movies, ‘The Bank Job’, ‘Crank’, and the ‘Transporter’ films have all made the top five Stateside, making him one of the more bankable British actors currently working. Like a cinematic One Direction, if you will, only less prone to girlish prancing.
And so, the defence rests. Whether his films are a thrill, a guilty pleasure, or your idea of hell, the Derby-born, supermodel-dating tough guy appears to be going nowhere. A cameo in the sixth ‘Fast And Furious’ movie is just around the corner (duelling, no doubt incoherently, with fellow mumbler Vin Diesel and The Rock), while a third ‘Expendables’ movie seems inevitable. He may never be accused of challenging audiences, but in a world where the top action films feature Shia LaBeouf talking to CGI robots, it’s nice to know someone’s keeping the ‘one man army’ action genre alive.