Saturday, 5 November 2016

Film Round-Up #18

After making his acting debut in Guy Ritchie's first two films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Jason Statham quickly made a name for himself as the latest arse-kicking action star. I think he surprised quite a few moviegoers with that move - he had just seemed like a fairly normal cockney bloke beforehand - but he proved very convincing in the many action scenes his subsequent films featured, showing off some superb martial arts skills as well as some fantastic stunt work. The first of these that I saw was The Transporter but many similar roles soon followed and in nearly all of them he seems to be an ex-something-awesome like a SAS soldier or Special Forces operative or MMA fighter or something. He could easily be playing the same character in a vast majority of them, in fact, but they are still often highly entertaining if you ask me. Here is a look at the five I've seen most recently:

War (2007)

The first time we saw Statham and the great Jet Li on screen together it was in 2001 for The One, an interdimensional adventure but this time things are rather less floopy. Statham is John Crawford, an FBI agent who becomes obsessed with catching a ruthless, highly skilled assassin known as Rogue (Li), a former CIA operative now working for the Yakuza, who brutally killed Crawford's old partner and best friend three years earlier. Like most obsessions, this adversely affects near enough every other aspect of his life but he's determined to bring the ultra-elusive villain down. For us that unsurprisingly means a shooty kicky action-filled 100 minutes or so. Statham's take on an FBI agent is as aggressive and rule-bending as you might expect and, similarly, Jet Li's Rogue is a man of very few words, instead showing up now and then looking all sinister and doing sinister things as well as effortlessly kicking a few arses when the fancy takes him. It's a good pairing and there are some really enjoyable scenes, like Rogue playing the Yakuza and Triads against each other, but we never really seem to get the fireworks that you feel is inevitable. Still worth a watch though... 6/10

The Mechanic (2011)

This one is actually a remake of a Charles Bronson film which starred the main man as Arthur Bishop, a 'mechanic' or hitman. Taking over the role here is Statham whose Bishop has become very successful thanks to his cool and controlled approach to his work. When his latest assignment charges him with killing his boss and mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland), he reluctantly carries it out, but upon meeting his son Steve at the funeral, he decides to take him on as a trainee mechanic. This in itself leads to some pretty cool scenes with Bishop and Steve (Ben Foster, who I thought was Aaron Paul to start with) but there's a load of action too. Most of it is of the guns/explosions/leaping off bridges type rather than chop-socky stuff but that's okay, and there's a bit more to the plot here than we would normally expect from a Statham film too. It still won't win any screenplay awards but it's not too bad. I guess as a film there isn't really anything original about it but the cast do their jobs well enough, the special effects eye-catching, and it's solidly entertaining throughout. There's a sequel now too! ... 7/10

Safe (2012)

After being forced to leave his role with the NYPD, Luke Wright turns to cage fighting. When he crosses the Russian mafia he is forced into hiding where he sees a young Chinese girl who is being hunted by the Triads and the Russians for her numerical talents - specifically a lengthy code she has memorised. Naturally Luke feels compelled to help her, bringing him into conflict not only with the vicious Chinese and Russian gangs but also his corrupt former law enforcement colleagues too. A rather silly plot then, which director Boaz Yakin (also the writer) probably came up with in five minutes, but pitting Statham as a one-man army against three organised, well-equipped groups is a good way to up that arse-kicking count. He does all this as entertainingly as ever too, with most sequences pleasing to the eye and well choreographed, especially the epic final showdown. The only supporting characters that stand out really are James Hong as the Triad boss (always good to see him) and Robert John Burke as the dirty police captain but its 90-ish minutes is as action-packed and satisfying as any of his films... 7/10

Hummingbird (2013)

In a major departure from the norm we now have Statham playing an ex-Special Forces dude (chortle) who, after a less-than-glorious exit from service, is now living as a homeless drunk on the streets of London. While on the run from some thugs one night, however, he happens upon a swanky apartment and discovers the owner is away for several months. Seems like a good opportunity to 'borrow' someone's identity! His first stop is to help his homeless friends but it isn't long before his fighty talents, apparently undulled by years of booze and sleeping rough, earn him the attention of a Chinese crime syndicate who hire him as an enforcer. It probably sounds like another blah blah Statham beats up tons of thugs blah blah (understandably) but I actually really enjoyed this one. It's always nice to see bullying thugs get their comeuppance but the unlikely relationship between Joey (Statham) and Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), a Polish nun who runs the local soup kitchen, certainly makes it more interesting. Both performances are great too, and it even had a realistic ending! ... 8/10

Wild Card (2015)

For the final film we have another remake, this time of a 1985 Burt Reynolds film which was based on a novel. They don't seem to have a huge amount in common though. Here the main character is Nick Wild (Statham), a gambling addict who works as a 'chaperone' in Las Vegas. When his waitress friend (Anne Heche) is raped and beaten, however, he goes after the guy responsible who turns out to be a gangster. Aside from their confrontation though, the film isn't nearly as arse-kicky as most Statham films. It's actually a much more sombre, slow-paced affair in comparison. That's not necessarily a bad thing but the story isn't exactly gripping. There are a few standout sequences such as Nick's crazy gambling scene complete with cringe-inducing climax, Stanley Tucci's typically watchable turn as the Vegas mob boss, and that aforementioned confrontation, but the rest of it is a bit boring to be honest. It's a different type of character for Statham to tackle (or semi-different at least), and he does okay, but it's hard to be too bothered about him or anyone else here... 5/10

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