I recently watched three films starring Jason Statham, the wise guy’s Vinnie Jones.
Jason is gangster Jake, released from prison after doing seven years for a crime he didn’t commit. While in prison he has developed some sort of Zen mental powers that allow him to win every game in which he competes, including the game of life. The battle lines are drawn with arch enemy Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), the gangster who got him sent down, but things are complicated by the intervention of master conman Zach and chess wizard Avi, with whom Jake spent prison time and who helped him develop the Formula that lets him win every game. They have plans of their own for their old buddy’s future development. There’s a lot more to it than that, but in this case less really is more (if you’re curious, check out the detailed plot synopsis on Wikipedia). Directed by Guy Ritchie this is a film that has substantial style, and a plethora of content. It is far more to do with head games and competing versions of reality than gangsters and guns, despite the cool, crime vibe it tries to project. I liked the style – the soundtrack, the visual look of the film with its bright primary colours (echoes of The Spirit at times), the over the top acting, especially from a manic Liotta and Andre Benjamin as cool cat Avi, and my favourite scene in the whole film was when hired assassin Sorter has a change of heart and kills a legion of goons instead of taking the child has was supposed to kidnap. Statham himself is almost negligible, a character who is acted on rather than acting (in both senses of the word); he fills a Jake sized hole that is required by the mechanics of the film, but not much else, albeit this, for want of a better word, understated performance was probably the one requested by the director. I wasn’t so keen on the content. As a crass materialist all the philosophical tweaks left me feeling cold, and while I think I could benefit from a second viewing, nothing in the first has left me with any inclination to undertake such a task. I’m happy to work with a film, to grasp after understanding, but not when I feel the only person with any chance of achieving such satori is the director’s analyst.
The Transporter (2002)
Sporting considerably less hair than in Revolver Statham plays Frank, a former military man who now lives in Europe and makes a living by driving getaway cars and transporting goods from A to B with no questions asked. He’s the best there is at what he does, and makes it a rule not to pry into his employers’ business, but then Frank gets stuck with transporting human cargo, the daughter of a crime lord involved in people trafficking. Having helped her escape, against his better judgement, Frank finds himself a target for the bad guys, and the more he tries to disengage the worse things get, eventually leaving our hero with no alternative but to bring down the criminal empire of his past associates. This has a James Bond feel about it, with an opening car chase that sets the scene, and thereafter a continually escalating series of action set pieces – faster chases with bigger vehicles, larger and more spectacular explosions, harder fights against ever worsening odds, until eventually our hero is last man standing. A laconic character, the role doesn’t really demand much of him, but Statham plays it convincingly, using language to convey and reinforce the tough guy veneer he projects (e.g. referring to his human cargo as “the package”), and constantly bristling with attitude. And with some cutting dialogue and one liners he also brings something comedic to the role, albeit very black comedy. Of course after the necessary adjustment of his moral compass, Frank turns into the good guy we knew he was all along, though that doesn’t stop him kicking the shit out of everybody else. It was a fun, testosterone fuelled film, and I enjoyed it the most out of these three Statham outings, but I don’t think I’ll remember anything much about in a year’s time.
The Transporter 2 (2005)
Presumably made on the back of the previous film’s success (there’s also been a TV series, I believe), and probably with a bigger budget, though if so they spent it on some “name recognition” players (Amber Valletta, Matthew Modine, Jason Flemyng) rather than bigger bangs for their bucks. Jason is now living in the US and chauffeuring the son of a wealthy politician involved in negotiating a crackdown in the war on drugs. When the son is kidnapped for ransom he takes it as a personal slight and determines to rescue the boy, but something else is going on behind the scenes, a play with deeper implications for all concerned. Initially this put me in mind of Man on Fire which was released the previous year, but fortunately they went off in a different direction as I’d hate to be comparing Frank with Denzel Washington’s Creasy. That direction felt slightly contrived, but not to the point that I was ready to kick the film out of the DVD player. If I’d seen this before the first film I would probably have been more impressed, but as is it feels like a film in which everything has been scaled back, while Amber Valletta as one of the main villains, strutting around in her underwear while waving a couple of machine pistols about, was risible, as if somebody had read too many bad comic books as a child. The main big bad, Alessandro Gassman as gun for hire Chellini, is nearly as laughable, a pumped up pimp with all the personality of the sunbed from which he got his permatan. I wasn’t much taken with any of this. It was entertaining in a pass the time sort of way, but I came away from it with the feeling there were much better things I could have spent that ninety odd minutes on.
Prior to this, I can only recall watching Statham in Crank. Three films on, I’m going to say that I definitely consider the guy typecast, but hey, if it works for him.