Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Year in Jason Statham Movies

Jason Statham appeared in four movies this year, and since I'm in the odd position of having seen all of them within a reasonable amount of time, I thought I'd give you the rundown. Why Statham? Well, he's about the only pure genre action star we've got left, who is really in his prime. He's been working steadily for over a decade now, and has had starring roles in at least three ongoing franchises. Contrary to popular opinion, not all Jason Statham movies are the same, though Jason Statham always plays Jason Statham. Fortunately he's good at it, and his persona is versatile enough that directors don't have to stretch to build some interesting movies around him. Of his 2011 pictures, I don't have much to say about "Gnomeo and Juliet," where he voices the hostile Tybalt gnome. You can't really tell it's him anyway. The other three pictures, however, are undeniably Jason Statham pictures.

First up in January we got "The Mechanic," a remake of the Charles Bronson film. Statham plays assassin Arthur Bishop, who is training a protege while playing an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with his newest targets. Well, nothing too elaborate to require much thinking. In May came "Blitz," a British film that didn't get a theatrical release in the US. Statham plays the troubled detective to Aidan Gillen's anarchic cop killer. Though he's clearly a good guy for this outing, he has to be the problem cop, who has the bad habit of using excessive force when the bad guys clearly deserve it. And finally in September came "Killer Elite," where he plays a mercenary with a heart of gold, forced to do one last job. "Killer Elite" was probably a much more staid political thriller at one point, as it was based on a book about a real vigilante group within the British SAS. Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro have major supporting roles, which is probably why critics took "Killer Elite" more seriously than the average Jason Statham vehicle, and proceeded to trash it.

None of these films got particularly good critical notices or made much money at the box office, but then again, none of them cost much to make either. The most expensive flop was "Killer Elite," which is estimated to have cost around $70 million with all the globe-trotting and star salaries, but compare that to any of the CGI-heavy blockbusters that go down in flames every year, and the numbers don't hurt so much. And increasingly, this is what counts as a mid-range picture now, the smaller scale shoot-em-ups and R-rated actioners that attract a fairly niche crowd. This includes me, by the way. I thoroughly enjoyed all three of Statham's movies this year for being exactly what they were - noisy, flashy, slightly skeevy B-movies that give Jason Statham a chance to commit acts of stylized violence in an entertaining way. Are the plots stale? Yes. Are the characters two-dimensional? Of course. Do they fall flat on their faces whenever they try to get too ambitious? With the exception of Paddy Considine's excellent scenes in "Blitz," oh yeah.

Are there any trends in these films? Well, compared to Statham's more well-known pictures like the "Transporter" series and the cheerfully trashy "Crank," this year's batch of films are a little more grounded in reality. He's doing less martial arts in favor of gunfights and car chases. There's hardly any CGI in sight, and it's R ratings all around. "The Mechanic" gets a little campy at times with its over-the-top villains, but is never cartoonish. If you took a few of the wilder action sequences out of "Blitz" and "Killer Elite," you'd have a pair of fairly typical crime dramas about cops and crooks, soldiers and mercenaries. Statham has done several of these, including "The Bank Job," and the Guy Ritchie films that first brought him to prominence. While he's very good at being the larger-than-life action hero, it's his ability to play the more average joe roles that's probably going to ensure that he stays around for a long time, and will age better than the 80s supermen.

Jason Statham may not be on the A-list, but he's unquestionably a movie star, one of a dying breed who can still dependably open movies based on his name alone. Next year he has another four pictures scheduled to hit the screens, including "The Expendables 2." And from his slate of projects in development, it doesn't look like he'll be slowing down any time soon.

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