Esquire, Apr 2013
How one Esquire writer learned to stop worrying and love The Stathe.
All the hero muscle in Hollywood these days, it’s all ours, from this side of the pond. Daniel Craig is Bond, Christian Bale is Batman, and Liam Neeson, of Taken, is still whacking bad guys at an age better suited to slippers and biscuits.
The purest exponent of movie brawn, however, is Jason Statham. With the others, you could do a marathon on a drizzly weekend and marvel at how artists evolve over the years, revealing the many facets of their humanity. Not so much with the Stathe, though. He hasn’t got time for all that “facets” carry-on. He’s too busy killing people and scowling. Throwing people out of cars and shooting up nightclubs. Treating life as though it were giant game of Grand Theft Auto. Making what the industry refers to as “Jason Statham movies”.
This is no small achievement – to come to Hollywood and become a genre. But there was an opening at least. People enjoy seeing a grizzled slab of man-muscle bring the violence, and since the end of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis, no one appeared to be up for the job. Crowe was too cerebral. Bana didn’t cut it. Pitt’s too pretty by half. Then along comes Statham, a market trader from Great Yarmouth. He has a veneer of authenticity, which they love in the movies, never mind that he spent 12 years as a competition diver, doing twirls and triple somersaults off the top board, scarcely the sport of geezers. He lands a part in Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels in 1998. And his life changes forever. Ever since that time, he’s been bouncing around the world that Guy Richie wrought, a terrain he knows so well by now that he effectively owns it. While Richie’s off to new pastures, the Stathe presses on with the cartoon gangster schtick and the rhyming slang that so delights Americans.
It’s true, he’s dabbled in other roles – he’s been a thief, a cop, even a gnome. But the Stathe is best known and most comfortable as a hitman. He’s navigates an underworld of multi-ethnic mobsters – they come in Mexican, Russian, Chinese and Cockney varietals, but whatever, the Stathe doesn’t care. His Cro Magnon brow is always hooded, his jaw forever clenched and he’s always on the verge of throwing some innocent punter out of his car and driving off at high speed. He marches, he shoots, he is captured and tortured but he escapes and shoots and marches his way out. He doesn’t smile. He has no friends. And in Stathe-world, he isn’t even known as a hitman. He is The Transporter. Or The Mechanic. Or The Carpet Cleaner. Only one of those is made-up.
He’s 45 now and apparently looking to broaden his range. Though his forthcoming movies remain firmly within his comfort zone – Parker is about a bank heist, Homefront pits him against a drug lord – he has spoken in interviews of looking for a comic role maybe. And this can only bode well. Not only is the Stathe often funny without trying, but it seldom fails when a meathead killing machine chooses to lampoon himself.
In fact, he’s already tried it, and it worked a treat. Crank I and II push His Statheness to brilliant absurdity – if you’ve not seen them, do. His character, Chev Chelios is a classic Statham hitman, only revved up to the eyeballs. A constant Stathe of emergency. In the old days, movie adrenalin consisted of Keanu Reeves in a bus that couldn’t go below 50 mph. Chelios eats that bus for breakfast.
At one point, in Crank II: High Voltage – in which Chelios can only stay alive by zapping himself with electricity (don’t ask) – our hero applies jumper cables to his nipples and tongue. And zap, he’s off, shooting and smashing and running and killing. It’s the Stathe as an action figure – wind him up, and off he goes on a legendary tear through Los Angeles. It’s a metaphor for his career. And you can’t help but cheer – go Chelios go.