[Posted by: Martin Keller]

Profile: Since the late 90’s, action movies have been trending more towards CGI laden spectacles. Granted, all movies at this point are subject to some amount of CGI, even on the smallest scale, but the day of the muscle bound action star has waned. Instead we are inundated with superhero movies and epic fantasies. (Read: Iron Man, Spider-Man, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, 300, Avatar…) The days of the tough guy, in a tough spot, using pure brute force, are seemingly gone. There have been some blips on the radar: the Bourne series, the most recent Rambo, Casino Royale (which could be argued down), and most everything that Jason Statham has put out. Statham hearkens back to the days of testosterone fueled ass-kicking, perhaps that’s why he’s so popular, and perhaps that’s why he fits in Stallone’s recent parade of action stars, The Expendables (2010). He is carrying on the tradition pioneered by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Willis, and Stallone.

Statham got his start in movies through Guy Ritchie starring in the 1999 hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and followed that with another role for Ritchie in equally popular and hilarious Snatch (2000). Both movies explore the darkly comic underworld of the London, through its amateurs and its professionals. Following these, he dabbled in action in Ghosts of Mars (2001) and opposite Jet Li in The One (2001), but he solidified this path starring in 2002’s action hit The Transporter. Then a few supporting roles in The Italian Job (2003), Collateral (2004) and Cellular (2004). In 2005, he starred in the first sequel in the Transporter series, The Transporter 2. Subsequently, he has starred almost exclusively in action movies and almost always as the lead. 2006 brought us the one the best meta-action movies ever, Crank. He starred in War (2007) opposite Jet Li, Death Race and Transporter 3 both in 2008, the even more balls to the wall sequel to Crank, Crank: High Voltage, and most recently in The Expendables.

Statham is no acting powerhouse, but he’s damned good action star and he can deliver a line. I think he suffers from poor writing more than anything. Sure, we expect action movies to serve up contrived plots that build the scaffolding for copious amounts of gratuitous bloodshed. But it’s when they dwell on the story, when there are beats wasted on characters’ moral dilemmas and humanity, that we cry for bloodshed. Because I didn’t come here to be jerked around; don’t give me guilt when I want blood. I can’t swallow movies that unsuccessfully attempt to take themselves seriously; the impetus for the cheesy action flick is an afterthought.

Quote:Right. Let’s sort the buyers from the spyers, the needy from the greedy, and those who trust me from the ones who don’t, because if you can’t see value here today, you’re not up here shopping. You’re up here shoplifting. You see these goods? Never seen daylight, moonlight, Israelite. Fanny by the gaslight. Take a bag, c’mon take a bag. I took a bag home last night. Cost me a lot more than ten pound, I can tell you. Anyone like jewelry? Look at that one there. Handmade in Italy, hand-stolen in Stepney. It’s as long as my arm. I wish it was as long as something else. Don’t think because these boxes are sealed up, they’re empty. The only man who sells empty boxes is the undertaker, and by the look of some of you lot today, I’d make more money with me measuring tape. Here, one price. Ten pound.” – Bacon, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Defining Role: Statham’s first role in the action genre would also be his defining role in the action genre, and that’s as the eponymous Frank Martin in The Transporter. The movie is weak, even for an action flick. It’s riddled with CG gunfire, a homoerotic romp in some grease, and an underwater swimming scene which is a bizarre allegory for sex, I think. However bad, the film boosted Statham into the action scene and proved to be the foundation on which he would build his action career. The sequels were more financially successful than the original, but they are nothing more than riffs on the first film, as is with most sequels. The opening scene of the first film is a glimpse into what this movie could have been. Consider this the high point. (Sorry about the subtitles.)

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For my money, however, Statham’s defining role is his first, as the slick talking Bacon, in Guy Ritchie’s first cockney gangster flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It was this film that introduced me to him, and the follow-up Snatch, that solidified my interest in him. Here’s the opening scene from Lock, Stock.

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Best Action Moment: While Statham has been in a plethora of action movies, none come close to the off the wall, self-aware Crank. It’s over the top, gratuitous violence is somehow restrained in light of its sequel, and is tempered by its lack of seriousness. The film succeeds because of its simplicity: within the first five minutes we know the quest of our hero, Chev Chelios: to stay alive long enough to kill the man who poisoned him with a dose that is continually slowing his heart. So, Chev must constantly find ways to speed it up, hence the title. These ways and means are constituted by: driving full speed through a shopping mall, getting into many gunfights, having sex with his girlfriend, played by Amy Smart, in public, and headbanging to the ironic “Achey Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus. What’s truly great about this film is that it knows what it is, and succeeds at just that. And somehow by the end, I empathized with Chev Chelios.

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Best Non-Action Turn: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was a defining moment in Statham’s career; it was his first. But Snatch put him at the lead of an impressive ensemble cast, including Dennis Farina, Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro. It further proved that with the right script and directing, he can deliver a line. He starred as Turkish, an underground boxing promoter who becomes further entangled with the London Mafia, gypsies, diamond thieves and pawn shop owners. It’s rife with hilarious and quotable one-liners and slick music video style editing. The soundtrack is also killer, as is the soundtrack for Lock, Stock. As far as acting chops go, Statham hasn’t come close to this caliber since.

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