Why Jason Statham is the planet’s purest action star

You go to a Jason Statham movie, and you get wall-to-wall action, with not a cheesy kids comedy in sight. We celebrate this all-too-underappreciated fact…

Jason Statham

First and foremost, I should confess that I’ve been a latecomer to the Jason Statham gravy train. It was only in the last six months that I finally got to watch Crank all the way through, and since then, I’ve also had the pleasure of the underappreciated The Bank Job, too, where he goes about his business seemingly unaware that the film was supposed to be set in the 1970s. But it doesn’t matter one jot: it’s a cracking little caper movie, and I’ll happily watch it again in due course. I’ve yet to get to Death Race, but his presence in it now virtually guarantees I’ll give the DVD a spin when it comes round, too. It’s not often you say that about a Paul W S Anderson movie.

Next month, Statham unleashed his latest on us, the third Transporter movie. After that, it’s a sequel to Crank. These are, inevitably, a pair of unapologetic audience pleasers, from an actor who isn’t worried about returning to previous roles to churn out fresh films. Refreshingly, there’s no reinvention or rebooting in them, either. Transporter 2 was a solid sequel to Transporter, and the third – while early reviews have been troubling – is likely to be the same. Likewise, all we want from Crank 2 is more of the utter madness that ran through the original. We’re likely to get it, too.

And, let’s face it, there aren’t many modern day action stars who are willing to do that, to follow a similar template to the big names of the 80s who weren’t ashamed of making a sequel to a film that hit big for them. Granted, some of them took it a little too far – Rocky V, anyone? – but there’s almost a snobbery to doing it now, that Statham is happily smashing his way through. The fact that the man can actually act a bit is surely a further welcome factor.

But if there’s one thing in particular that Jason Statham deserves utmost credit for, it’s resisting the urge to send up his hard man image. You name ‘em, pretty much every one of our action heroes have fallen into that trap in the past couple of decades, and paid some kind of price as a result. Why they feel they need to switch genres like this beggars belief: in the everyday world, would a car mechanic suddenly decide they want to work as a teacher? Or would a comic book artist feel that their future was in writing extensive government reports? So why, in the world of film, have people who have made their success in a genre or two managed to convince themselves that they need to play so heavily against that?

Ad – content continues below

Don’t get us wrong: in its place, it works a treat. Acting against type has delivered some stunning cinematic work in the past. But even the most generous would surely concede that beefcake action heroes don’t tend to do very well when they’re not making beefcake action films (we’ll give Bruce Willis a pass there).

But let’s just look at the different kind of films that major action stars have made. It’s all Arnie’s fault, really. When his pairing with Danny DeVito in Twins resulted in a major international hit, it spawned a sub-genre of one-joke comedies, where the joke was staring at you in the face on the poster. Schwarzenneger and DeVito as twins? Surely it couldn’t be so? How funny. Etc.

Arnie then turned it into a mini-cottage industry, with diminishing results. Twins just about worked, but Arnie as a nursery school teacher in Kindergarten Cop showed the cracks. Pregnant Arnie? How awesome would that be? Not very, as anyone who sat through Junior could testify. Then, whatever persuaded him to team up with one of Hollywood’s most reliably bad directors in the shape of Brian Levant (2 x Flintstones movies for starters) for Jingle All The Way is just staggering. Would you catch the Statham doing it? Absolutely not.

Stallone fell foul of all of this too, of course. Oscar was a comedy that didn’t really play on his image, but the horrible, horrible, horrible Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot absolutely did. It bombed too, which thankfully dissuaded Sly from further pursuing this career avenue. We remember too the sight of Bruce Willis dressed as a pink rabbit in Rob Reiner’s North, but thankfully he got over that too.

Even the more recent of Statham’s contemporaries are falling for it as well. For Vin Diesel, it’s surely contributed to the fact that he simply can’t buy a hit now. Diesel is a good actor – Boiler Room, anyone? – but the lure of a cheap and easy hit with The Pacifier was one that should have been resisted. Sure, it made its money, but not before many of his fans wondered what the hell the man was doing. It’s what the letters W, T and F were made for. The Rock has actually fared a little better with The Game Plan, but he’s currently attached to an old intended-for-Arnie project where he’s playing the tooth fairy. Why? Why? Why? Why do action stars feel they should be doing such things, instead of smacking people in the mush?

Which all brings us neatly back to Jason Statham, who you have to argue is one of the purest action heroes on the planet right now. There’s no pretension, and a fair bit of skill, to what he does, and you suspect that he’s of the ilk that if a script for Kindergarten Cop 2 or something of that sort turned up near his door, he’d give it the swift kick in the nuts it deserved.

Ad – content continues below

And that, surely, is something to be respected, appreciated and admired. Especially if he turned something like that down to make Crank 2. What kind of statement of intent would that be?

The Transporter 3 is out on 5th December.

10 movie stars and the franchises they rely onRecast Your Franchise