10 greatest Jason Statham films

News Duncan Bowles 12 Aug 2010 - 04:40

As he takes pride of place in The Expendables, Duncan counts down the finest movies of his action movie idol, Mr Jason Statham...

Now, before you start reading any further, you might be thinking, "What the hell have they written this list for? Surely he hasn't even made ten films yet?"

But you'd be wrong on two counts.

Firstly, the reason that Jason Statham has been so successful is from working damn hard since he broke through in 1998 with Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. In the last twelve years, he's clocked up twenty-four onscreen appearances.

Sensibly, he's chosen to concentrate on mostly making the films that he's naturally suited to: action movies.

The reason I'm most grateful for this is because of the seeming generosity with which it feels he's rewarding me as an action fan. I'd be happy if every other film he ever did was a sequel to The Transporter, or Crank, and for the last several years, that's been the case.

So, if I wasn't actively trying to promote the rest of his work, then the top five films in the list would all be Transporters and Cranks and it took a great deal of restraint not to do that (see link at the bottom).

Just look at the other actors who've tried to take up the throne of 'action movie star', such as Vin Diesel and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. I supported both of them, and how did they repay me? With the fucking Pacifier and Tooth Fairy, that's how.

Now they're attempting to return to the fray, but they're too late. King Statham has been crowned already and not by me, but by Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis.

If you were fortunate enough to catch this year's Spike Guy's Choice Awards, you'd have witnessed the most incredible amount of action movie stars you've ever seen in one room and also heard Sylvester Stallone officially handing over his mantle to his handpicked, next generation of muscular talent, which included Statham, Terry Crews, Steve Austin and Randy Couture.

Indeed, before dismissing Statham out of turn, consider this: excluding The Expendables (which Stallone has mentioned being his new franchise, therefore eradicating a fifth Rambo movie, sadly) he has two of his own action movie franchises, which have been responsible for five cinematic releases, with no other name but his to launch them.

Then consider the amount of loyalty he seems to have gained from his peers, having worked three times with Jet Li now, twice with our future Captain America, Chris Evans, and several times with his longstanding friends Vinnie Jones and Guy Ritchie. That's excluding the recurring actors in any sequels he's appeared in.

And finally, to refer back to my first sentence, you'd be wrong because, quite frankly, Jason Statham is awesome.

10. Mean Machine

"Do that again, I'll rip your head off."

Now here's a movie that I never, ever expected to watch, as it involves football, prison, and Vinnie Jones, none of which sounded like the recipe for a fun night in. I was quite wrong, though, much to my chagrin, as Mean Machine was a surprisingly light hearted, comedic little film.

Now, technically, Statham only has an extended cameo in the film, so it's debatable if it should make the list, but, my word, what a cameo. It's his equivalent of Steve Buscemi's masterful turn as Garland Greene in Con Air, appearing for roughly the same portion of time as Buscemi did, too.

Vinnie Jones' character, a disgraced footballer by the name of Danny ‘Mean Machine' Meehan, is being shown the ropes inside the prison, when we are introduced to Statham's character, Monk, whom we're told has killed twenty-odd men with his bare hands.

The real joy to be had from Monk, though, is during the climactic football match between the inmates and the wardens, in which the commentators, fellow Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels actors Jason Flemyng and Jake Abraham (the cast is mostly populated by the Lock, Stock actors, on account of it being produced under Matthew Vaughn and Guy Ritchie's Ska Films) observe and discuss Monk.

We're then treated to two insights into his inner thoughts, one of them being some of the most glorious and comical seconds you'll ever have seen Statham perform, as Marilyn Manson's Fight Song suddenly blares out and we see exactly what Monk would like to do to the opposing team...

9. The One

"In this, you exist. In another you don't exist. In another, you're married to the same woman. In another, you're married to a different woman. In another, you're married to a man."

You know what's better than one Jet Li? Lots of Jet Lis! You can tell someone's had a good day, when they sit back and think, "Who on earth would be the most exciting person to get Li to fight"Aha! Himself! (Note to self: not in the Double Impact tradition.)"

In this instance the people responsible were former X-Files, Millennium and Space: Above And Beyond scribes Glen Morgan and James Wong (who also directed), who've earned extra affection from myself over the years for the likes of Final Destination and Willard.

Don't get me wrong, The One (or Jet Li's The One, if you prefer) is exactly the kind of bonkers sci-fi trash that would sit perfectly as a double with Van Damme's Timecop, but that doesn't make it any less fun.

It also marked the first of Statham's three other films with Jet Li and the first chance he had to appear in a proper action movie, and I don't think it's any coincidence that The One's fight choreographer, Corey Yuen, went on to co-direct Mr S in The Transporter.

Still, if you haven't seen The One, it's an absolute blast, as Statham and the ever underappreciated Delroy Lindo run around claiming to be multiverse agents, while bad Jet Li chops his way through the other dimensional versions of himself, leading to some quite spectacular fight scenes and a good chance for Li to show both extremes of his onscreen personas.

I'm always left disarmed by how ‘cute' Li can appear, even if he's just broken someone's neck.

8. London

"C'mon you f**kin' dirty, sh*t, c**t, whore! F**kin' whip me!"

Oh, yes. The line above was delivered by the big man, while retelling his experience in an S&M parlour and is a monologue filled with comedy gold. Be warned the language doesn't get any prettier, in a film in which all the characters have potty mouths.

London appears to be the only film directed by Hunter Richards and information about it seems a little thin on the ground. It was released the year after stars Statham, Jessica Biel and Chris Evans appeared together in Cellular (further down the list), so I assume the casting was no accident.

London feels more like a play than a film, with the majority of the ninety minute runtime playing out in a bathroom at a house party.

Tonally, it's very similar to the work of Bret Easton Ellis, with all the characters displaying their ugly character flaws, being mostly unsympathetic, rich and taking a lot of drugs, so it won't appeal to a lot of people. Curiously, Statham's character's name is Bateman, while Biel appeared in a film adaptation of another of Ellis' books, The Rules Of Attraction.

Evans and Statham drive the bulk of the film and do so in style, but it's the latter who proves the most entertaining, revelling in the chance to show a rare display of emotions (just try to ignore his awful hairstyle), while spitting out the 'C' word with such panache, that, at times, the dialogue feels improvised.

If you want to see Statham playing against type (for the majority of the film) then I'd give it a go, just be prepared for quite a lot of rambling, coked-up dialogue, which adds to the authenticity, while not always holding the attention. Oh, and don't watch it if you've just broken up with someone.

7. Death Race

"You wanted a monster. Well, you've got one."

Now, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Not long after I started writing for Geek, I wrote an article in which I attempted to release all the anger I felt towards one Paul W.S. Anderson, which is linked down at the bottom.

Those feelings haven't really dissolved, so until writing this list I'd been putting off watching Death Race, because deep down I had the sickening feeling I'd like it.

I was right.

The problem is that Anderson, as a director, does warrant some praise, especially from a technical point of view and for managing to make a smaller budget go a long way. I still hold that his weakness is in his writing and Death Race is another example of that. If only someone gave him a decent script, took his crayons away and firmly told him, "No! No more writing!", then he might fare better.

Death Race's plot is as predictable as you'd imagine, to the point where you could pretend to be psychic and ‘impress' your friends with how things were going to turn out. I'm also mad that Anderson chose to eradicate any reference to the originals' premise of scoring points according to what type of person you hit (men, women, children, babies, old people) and instead just chose to hold a race to the death in a prison.

It has more in common with The Running Man than the original Death Race.

However, as a standalone action film and ignoring any prejudice, I have to admit it was a lot of fun. The film zips along nicely, but where it excels is in the car races themselves, which are impressively long and well put together, managing to be exciting and incredibly brutal, as all kinds of chaos is unleashed on the track.

Our man makes for the perfect wronged man, on a mission to get payback, while he's ably supported by the likes of Ian McShane and Joan Allen (whose 'controversial' moment of swearing really isn't that shocking).

Now I feel dirty.

6. The Bank Job

"I know what's at stake, and I know how expendable we are. So I'm changing the deal."

Our Statham does seem to like a good ensemble, as the next couple of entries further prove, though The Bank Job is notable for making sure that he gets top billing and is surrounded by people who are less well known (in Hollywood terms that is, not British TV).

This does mean that he's really given a chance to shine, as his character draws respect from all those around him and holds the film together.

I knew nothing about The Bank Job when I first saw it, except what the title implied, so I was quite surprised to see a seventies set, British crime thriller, instead of a glossy, American action film like the other 'Job' below.

It's a really solid, little movie with some great performances under the direction of Roger Donaldson, whose eclectic career has involved the likes of eighties Kevin Costner thriller No Way Out, Cocktail, Species, Dante's Peak (go team Brosnan!), Thirteen Days (Costner again) and The Recruit. Curiously, he's also in the process of finishing up The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, which is on my radar for being a vigilante/revenge movie, starring both Nicolas Cage and Guy Pearce. Consider me sold.

Also worthy of note is that the script was written by legends Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

The Bank Job could also be seen to put more distance between poor Saffron Burrows and Deep Blue Sea in which, at test screenings, the audience bayed for her characters' blood so vocally, that the studio changed the ending.

5. The Italian Job

"It's either bad traffic, peak traffic, slit-your-wrist traffic... you know, five people died from smoking in between traffic lights today."

Now, hold your horses. Before you start reading me the riot act about remakes, I should tell you that I agree, for the most part, that Hollywood really needs to stop with the incessant recycling of material. More importantly, it needs to stop using the names of original films, when a slight tweak would have stopped us all from screaming on the Iternet.

As has been stated a few times on Geek, the recent Karate Kid remake didn't even feature karate, but kung fu, yet the eternal wisdom of the Tinseltown execs must have insisted on keeping the exact same franchise name, making someone like myself steer clear, out of a love for the original.

The Italian Job suffered the exact same fate, with friends of mine still refusing to watch it on principal. But, if you can push past the resentment, there's a solid crime heist movie to be found.

As with so many of Mr S's other films, he's part of a great ensemble cast which really help to lift the material, in this case mostly Seth Green, the ever stunning Charlize Theron and Edward Norton.

The film won't blow you away in any kind of revelatory fashion, but the film cracks along and has some great set pieces. I'm also particularly fond of a dinner scene involving Theron and Norton, but won't say more.

I'm fortunate, in that I've never seen the original the whole way through, so had no burning loyalty to the Michael Caine version, but as far as I've gathered, it has virtually nothing in common with the original, so don't dismiss it based on that fact (though I appreciate that it's easy for me to say in this context).


4. The Guy Ritchie Chronicles: Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Revolver

"No food here. Not today, sunshine. My eyes are open and the restaurant's closed. Jog on. Slide off."

By setting my own rules about not populating this list with the Statham sequels, it also seemed unfair to then fill it with a string of Guy Ritchie films, especially when they've all been so high profile for one reason or another and because, if you're feeling a little anti-Ritchie, can all seem a little too similar.

Lock, Stock has to be mentioned because it was the film that gave Statham his big break, apparently after French Connection (who Statham modelled for at the time) invested in the picture and introduced him to Guy Ritchie.

I actually avoided Lock, Stock like the plague when it came out, for exactly the same reason I'd done the same with Trainspotting a couple of years before. Because it was absolutely everywhere, being talked about by everyone as being ‘the best film ever', regardless of how many films the people saying that had seen.

They both achieved a status of being iconic and cool and therefore slapped on to every student's wall, adorned and revered like some kind of religious cult, so naturally, I ran the other way.

Admittedly, this was partly to upset anyone who happened to revere the above films, but for the most, was so I could watch them after all the hype had washed away and judge them on their own merits.

For the record, I thought they were both great, though they're never on my radar when anyone mentions favourite films. The same goes for Snatch, though I enjoyed that far more than I thought I would, and not just because I worked in retail when the DVD was released and took great delight in having people ask me, "Have you got any Snatch left?" Puerile? Yes. But it sure made the day go quicker.

As for Revolver, well I'd avoided that with gusto too, but only because I'd heard what an awful, pretentious mess it was. But, in the name of being thorough, and out of sheer dedication to this article (and to Statham), I finally watched it.

Good grief. What a tremendously enjoyable mess.

A while back we introduced a single gold star rating for great terrible movies, which hasn't had much of an airing since, but Revolver was made for it. At first it seems like a fairly standard gangster film, with Mr Statham sporting what can best be described as his Cage/Con Air look, involving some nice lank long hair and a rather glorious moustache.

Things quickly go downhill as Ritchie takes it upon himself to tell us all that, yes, he's actually read a book (apparently on Kabbalah, in this instance) and can therefore transfer his new found skill into a film.

It really doesn't work, though, by either convincing us that the film possesses the intelligence needed to pull of any form of spiritual or existential content, or by being able to contain the cinematic craziness of Ray Liotta, who is off the leash throughout.

At one point, Ritchie even tries to insert Manga-style animation, but without the context or understanding that Tarantino achieved in Kill Bill.

Statham is given quite a range of emotions to express, as well as a guiding voiceover and fairs a lot better than you'd expect, but it's the ever excellent Mark Strong who steals the film.

3. Cellular

"Time's up!"

There's a fair chance that you've never heard of Cellular, let alone seen it. I only caught it last year when it dawned on me that there was a Statham movie I hadn't seen, which also starred the mighty Chris Evans and William H. Macy, so I ordered it immediately.

Like so many of Statham's films, it's tight, exciting, perfectly executed and I loved it, despite poor Jason having to strain his American/Cockney accent even more than normal.

He also gets to play an out and out bad guy from the start, kidnapping poor Kim Basinger (or ‘bitch' as he prefers to call her. It's just the way he rolls.) and her son, in an attempt to find her husband.

I only mention Kim Basinger now, as I'm still mad at her for being the only person from L.A. Confidential to be nominated for (and win) an Oscar. All she really did was pout and cry, while Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell and Kevin Spacey were absolutely incredible, arguably never better, and they got nothing. I know it's not her fault, but it really made me question both her ability and the Oscars themselves and I found both to be lacking. Still, I loved her as a young boy and she still has the ability to make me wobble, especially in Tim Burton's Batman.

Anyway, in Cellular she gets to cry and pout a lot. Jason Statham is mean and threatening. William H. Macy is as effortlessly loveable as always, and Chris Evans runs and drives about, while managing to avoid being the awful himbo that his character seems to dictate at first, mostly thanks to Evans' own charisma.

Cellular also has Jessica Biel in a small role. This is important, because I rather love her.

2. The Transporter

"You don't need your mouth to pee."

It was a hard to decide between The Transporter and Crank for the top spot, as I love them both, but Crank just wins out, as my obsession with Statham was at full swing by the time Crank came out, so my enjoyment was maximised. The Transporter though, was what kick-started the whole crazy love affair in the first place.

Blockbusters' ex-rental section always provides me with a ripe choice of action flicks. It's a place where I've discovered many a joy over the years and The Transporter was no exception. I can't remember how I missed it at the cinema, but my expectations were fairly average by the time the DVD was released and that made the film so much better upon the first viewing.

It always amazes me when an action film comes along that is so straightforward and slickly made that it actually feels like a breath of fresh air, and how I loved the adventures of Frank Martin within minutes of the film's start.

The plot is a simple good versus evil yarn that we all know inside out, but the fight scenes were fantastic and truly helped to elevate the film, the only downside to them being that, if you've watched the DVD special features, you'll have seen how much of the violence was cut.

Statham himself bemoans how, in cutting the fights, an element of the tempo within the choreography has been lost, and it's hard not to agree. More's the pity that the quality of the uncut fights is so raw and that, despite a ‘special edition' release, there's been no sign of the extended fights being but back into the film.

Still, it was the first time he had been the solo star in a film and he seized his chance to shine.

1. Crank

"Do I look like I've got 'c*nt' written on my head?"

Ah, Crank, blessed be. My word, what an incredibly absurd and exploitative treasure you turned out to be.

It proved several things about Statham: that he clearly had a sense of humour about the roles he plays, that he really does throw his all into his performances, regardless of how insane they (literally) are, that Red Bull does, indeed, give you wings, and that, if he chooses you to ‘make with the loving', then you'll damn well enjoy it ,even if it does take a little bit of persuading.

I think it's fairly safe to say that Crank isn't for everyone, although it's definitely the more sociably acceptable of the two films in the franchise. (I've just had flashbacks of the strippers having their breast implants leaking out of bullet holes in Crank: High Voltage - review linked below), but that's a large part of why I love it so much.

The gusto of bad taste and high concept were so prevalent in Crank that it was only that and the man himself that kept the film afloat, as it found ever more lewd and inventive ways to keep Chev Chelios' adrenaline up.

I have fond memories of the day a group of us saw the first Crank in the cinema, too, as we'd spent several hours in the pub beforehand. But just before leaving, I decided to down a couple of double vodka and Red Bulls, to get me in the right frame of mind. (I didn't actually know that it would be featured in the film itself.) When the credits rolled, I exclaimed how much I loved the film, apart from "the slow bit in the middle", which alarmed everyone else as they had to peel me off the walls and tell me "there was no slow bit".

Take heed, boys and girls, caffeine can even slow the non-stop insanity of Crank down.

This concludes the Statham education, but with The Expendables done and The Mechanic, Blitz and The Killer Elite (which also stars Clive Owen and Robert De Niro!) on the way, there's no sign of him letting up and I'll be there every step of the way. All hail the new king of action.

Update: Having now seen The Expendables, I can assuredly say that it would place at the top of this list.

Also recommended:

Crank 2: High Voltage and both Transporter sequels, obviously.

War - Statham and Jet Li again, plus Devon Aoki and Luis Guzman. War should, perhaps, have made the list, but expecting it to be a fairly ropey film, I confess that I drank too much before watching it and was then slightly shocked that it actually had a coherent plot. Sadly, I wasn't. Consequently, I can't really tell you much, apart from that it was better than I was prepared for, so I must revisit it.

Avoid:

Chaos
- A confused mess which managed the fatal crime of being dull, a full review can is linked below, ironically by our own Confused Reviews writer, Matt Edwards.

Ghosts Of Mars - By this point my love of Statham is clear, but I love John Carpenter even more, so it's with a heavy heart that I have to file this oeuvre under ‘avoid.' I really wanted to like it. I tried really, really hard. I even drank some beer beforehand, but, alas, no. I still don't know why multiple directors thought that Ice Cube would make a good action lead. He just doesn't have the stature for it. It's so bad even Natasha Henstridge doesn't get naked.

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale - Oh, dear. I've actually defended Uwe Boll in the past, mostly for Postal and the trashy fun that is Bloodrayne,. Sadly In The Name Of The King proved to be so awful that I didn't actually make it to the end. Again, Ray Liotta has starred alongside Statham in a filmic disaster, only this time Ron Perlman, Burt Reynolds, Matthew Lillard, Leelee Sobieski and John Rhys-Davies (violating the memory of The Lord Of The Rings) are along for the ride. A mess.

Haven't seen:

Turn It Up - I'm looking for advice on whether this one's worth it! Apparently, The Stath is only on screen for ten minutes and is the only reason worth watching it, so I feel slightly vindicated.

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