Jason Statham is hard. Like, proper hard. We know this because he plays characters who can kill assailants with just a look. Sometimes, with just the insinuation of a look. It’s subtle stuff.
But how does a man become that which other men fear? Where can a mere mortal transform himself into something greater than those around him? These are the questions that drive us all. And there is one above all else: how does one become like the Stath?
The answer, obviously, is to go to Milton Keynes. Because it is here that Spy Games is based, an events company that lets anyone learn how to shoot weapons in a field and feel good about it. And it is here that I have been sent, under the auspices of telling the world about Statham’s latest film, Blitz, now available to rent or buy on DVD and Blu-ray.
It is also to tell you about Blood Out, also out on DVD and Blu-ray, which doesn’t actually feature Jason Statham, but does have Luke Goss, Val Kilmer, 50 Cent, and Vinnie Jones among its cast. An enviable line up of men born to be men.
These are films linked not just by the inordinately large amounts of testosterone emanating from the pores of its leading men, but by a common theme – both feature cops doing what movie cops do. Shooting people, running about a lot, getting into fights and stuff. And so Spy Games has promised to do the same for me and the four other men joining me on this venture – to turn us into hard-as-nails cops. In the space of just one morning in September. And yes, in a field. In Milton Keynes.
In preparation, I haven’t shaved for three days. I’m wearing a sports t-shirt that wouldn’t look out of place on The Rock in Fast & Furious whatever-it’s-called. And I’ve refused a Danish pastry at a nearby coffee shop. You wouldn’t catch Arnie stopping for baked goods.
I presume this may prepare me for what follows, a simple run through of the morning’s schedule by head honcho Dave (a former SAS man who set up Spy Games). It doesn’t. Because this is when we also suit up. SWAT-style vest, holster, helmet. They all come on. And we save the best until last: a plastic, yellow gun. It’s plastic and yellow, sure, but it’s gun-shaped. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
Even the sight of cub-scout friendly refreshments – Ribena and weak orange drink – can’t dispel the feeling that we’re proper men doing man things in a world that needs men like us. Deep down, part of me knows that I look silly with a yellow plastic gun strapped to my thigh. But the more shallow me isn’t listening today. He’s too busy grinning.
From here we up the stakes and head down to the shooting range for the morning’s first test: sniper shooting. A man called Mike casually tells us to aim for the abdomen if we ever find ourselves in a real-life sniper situation. The head shot is all inflated bravado: too small a target. Aim for the gut and inflict major organ damage. Good to know.
We take this in while shooting at paper targets maybe 50 metres away. Hardly Mark Wahlberg in Shooter (a film that is given a thumbs up for accuracy, if not for much else). Although Wahlberg does shoot a can at some point in that film, and that’s where we find ourselves graduating to post-paper. There’s a satisfying clink as metal pellet strikes empty Heinz spaghetti tin, and a pat on the back from Mike for “good grouping” on my paper target. I feel warm inside, like this is where I was meant to be all my life.
But this is merely an hors d’oeuvre. Or, if Statham were catering, a few pieces of gravel before feasting on a tin of nails. Assault rifles are next. Okay, they’re fitted with tiny foam pellets, but these can still hurt, hence our wearing plastic goggles that make us look like some very over-dressed painters turning up for a ceiling job. And pellets from countless previous shootings have taken out half my man target – the kind that Clint Eastwood would blow in half during that shooting competition scene in Magnum Force – leaving me half a man to aim for. But that’s all I need.
I squeeze off a few bursts of the MP3 rifle, switch between semi and full automatic, and thank God I’m not storming a building for real. If you’re using the MP3 to take down enemy combatants, your bullets are going to penetrate a wall. If there’s a friendly on the other side of that wall, you’re in a world of hurt. Best go for the MP5 in that situation. 9mm rounds should do the trick.
As if sensing that this is wearing thin – shooting targets without pouring rain and inter cut slow motion shots of people surfing just ain’t gonna cut it – Mike calls us to action. We’re actually going to storm a building! Well, a make believe one. Which, in a field, consists of four sticks in the ground and tape running across them. A kind of poor man’s police crime scene. But we’ve been given orders: secure the area, guard our exits, and evacuate a hostage, played convincingly by Mike himself. We’re pumped. We’re primed. Picture Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez et al lined up to take that air plane in SWAT. That’s us.
Only, it’s not. We get confused over who’s taking left or right, fail to clear one side of the empty space, and we lose the hostage. Mike is down. Half of our team are crying tears of bitter shame, the other half despondent at the cavalier waste of a human life, a man of such promise cut down in his prime. Goodnight sweet Mike. We will miss you.
But not for long, because it’s back to Dave for hand-to-hand combat! Yay! After a quick orange drink, mind. It’s thirsty work, this, even more so once Dave starts grabbing people’s arms and twisting them back in on themselves. Realising that there’s a Statham link here, Dave puts the “everything can be a weapon” mantra to the test by doing twirly things and stabbing motions with rolled up magazines, a piece of string, and his belt. By the end of it I know this: if someone comes at me with a knife, I can disable them. I just have to ask them beforehand if they can go overhead stabbing motion – that’s the only one I remember.
And so, our morning’s work nears its climax. Martin, who up until now has been hovering in the background, teaches us smooth techniques for drawing and aiming our yellow, plastic guns. There is a ripple of excitement. We know what’s coming next. We gather ourselves in front of replica guns, stare longingly at them, and then gawp as Mike and Martin load a clip each with blanks and hand them over.
And, sure enough, we start smiling. Not because we want to shoot things in particular – that’s just mean – but rather this is when it starts to feel most like the movies, and that dream of being like those heroes on screen comes closest to being realised. The clip goes in, I hear the snap, cock the gun to load a blank in the chamber, and I could be Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Just with more hair and less grimace.
Dave puts us through our paces at the end. We’re thrown out of the garage slash disused hangar and made to huddle excitedly outside as the room is rigged to resemble a training exercise. There will be targets, we’re told, some paper, some human, and just eight bullets in our gun. Our mission is simple: kill or be killed. Make it to the end or die trying. Not in those exact words, maybe, but in my head that sounds better, and this is my rose-tinted memory, so go with me on this.
Three enter before me, each taking it in turns to brave it alone. I hear gunfire, screams, more gunfire (could be a kill shot), and then silence. I’m up. Dave opens the door, and it’s like the opening scene from Predator 2, if the opening scene from Predator 2 took place in a disused hangar in Milton Keynes on a windy Thursday morning. I shoot targets left and right – they’re easy paper ones – and then it kicks off. Big time. Mike has gone rogue and starts tearing up the place with an assault rifle. I’ve got no choice. He’s got to go down. The training kicks in and I squeeze off a single shot to the abdomen. From there I mop up the rest, including a slightly more passive Martin, and make it to the end. Game over, man. Game over.
We end with lunch, a suitably masculine tray of pork pies, sausages and meat, followed by a less so one of grapes, Brazil nuts, and scones. The taste of well-earned food mixes with the smell of recently discharged firearms and all seems at peace in the world. We talk of action heroes past (Stallone, Norris, Schwarzenegger, ummm… Seagal) and I wonder – is this what lunchtimes at the Statham house are like? Probably. Except for the pork pies, maybe. Those abs don’t sculpt themselves.Blood Out and Blitz are out now on Blu-ray and DVD, courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment.