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This article was published in 2015.
I can mark my life using Jason Statham movies.
1998 -- I'm sixteen and working in a video store in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My co-worker keeps telling me about this new director I just have to check out. He's kinda like Quentin Tarantino. Only British. Plus there's this one dude in the movie who's basically like Bruce Willis. Only British. I take the VHS tape of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels home. I'm instantly smitten and wish I had a Cockney accent, going as far as to try and perfect an awful impersonation of Jason Statham's Bacon character with my best friend, Mark.
2002 -- I'm on my first long weekend away from college, staying with my friend Mark, who is living with his parents in Newport News, Virginia. We're bored one afternoon, stoned off of some dirt brown weed and looking for anything to do. There's a theater within walking distance from Mark's parents' house, and we know that Jason Statham is in some new action movie. "It kinda looks like The Driver...but British," Mark says. I'm instantly sold. We end up seeing the movie twice that weekend. It would be the last time I ever see Mark again (we grew apart, as friends sometimes do).
2006 -- My dabbling in drugs has escalated into full-blown addiction. Cocaine basically defines my life for a good year and a half. So of course this new Jason Statham movie called Crank becomes the object of my affection. From the shots obtained via a roller-skating DP to the incessant energy, I can't stop watching, even as I piss away all my money and alienate most of my friends. In many ways, I am Chev Chelios, rampaging through life with the sole goal of getting my next buzz on, stomping out everything else in my path.
2008 -- I've met a girl. She's pretty cool. Our first date goes horribly. Too many martinis. The next day, she calls me. Asks if I want to go see a movie and maybe share a popcorn. We pick The Bank Job, because she loves Jason Statham, too. But neither of us really knows its love until we begin to butter our tub of kernels, unsatisfied until every piece is dripping with synthetic yellow. Seven months later, we're married.
2013 -- Austin, TX. After five grueling years of perfunctory day jobs, promising starts and punishing stops on various artistic projects, and a familial blow up that would barely be mended before we leave, our arrival couldn't be sweeter. We're broke and looking for work but we're happy, as this is the reward we've toiled away for. My first mainstream release in a Drafthouse theater, after a string of repertory screenings, is written by Sylvester Stallone and features James Franco as a slithery backwoods drug dealer named Gator. His #1 adversary? Jason Statham -- riding horses, wearing a baseball hat and protecting his little girl. He may still be speaking with a British accent, but he looks like our American Dream.
The walking personification of "The Dream" isn’t really too far off once one begins to do even a smidgen of research into Jason Statham. The son of a street merchant and lounge lizard crooner, Statham also happened to grow up and play football in grammar school with would-be legend Vinnie Jones. Later, he became a member of the British National Diving Team and competed for thirteen years. Statham didn't learn rigid discipline through numerous acting classes, instead honing his focus by keeping his body in top physical shape. This attention to self led to a modeling career with some of Europe's top agencies, placing his chiseled, bald visage in the pages of magazines and on billboards.
But Statham’s rough "everyman” exterior is what attracted the eye of Guy Ritchie, who was coming up as one of Britain's flashiest, most promising commercial directors. And once Ritchie learned of Statham's off the books means of making ends meet, it sealed the former model a role in the filmmaker's first feature. When pressed for cash, Statham would often return to the illicit skills he learned from his pops, dealing in black market merchandise on London's side boulevards. A decade later -- that role would transform into a viable acting career. Statham would go to Mars with John Carpenter. He'd spar with martial arts legend Jet Li on more than one occasion. He'd head-butt Captain America. While impossible to live up to this walking legend, whose work makes for a better life measurement than a man who has already navigated several of his own paths? Statham's entire existence is a reminder of how any individual's life can take the weirdest, most unexpected turns. That's beyond inspiring.
This piece acts as an attempt to quantify the greatness that is Jason Statham. Because while Statham might've appeared in some wonderful motion pictures, they may not have been great "Jason Statham Movies." Conversely, while any long career is bound to contain a stinker or two, Jason Statham might've been utterly brilliant in those colossal duds. Because that's what a movie star does. Their job is to light up even the dullest of spaces, fictional or otherwise. Don't let his past lives fool you: Jason Statham is an absolute star; one of the brightest we've got.
[Note -- to qualify for consideration for this list, there were a few simple rules:
1. Statham had to have a starring or significant supporting role (Sorry teasers/cameos)
2. No video game voice work (Sorry Call of Duty/Red Faction/Andrew Todd)
*Caveat: I unfortunately have not seen Wild Card (in theaters and on VOD this Friday) and may revise the list to include it once I do.
32. TRANSPORTER 3  (d. Olivier Megaton, w. Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen)
Alias: Frank Martin
Total Head-butts: 0
Olivier Megaton (real name: Olivier Fontana) should be locked up for crimes against humanity. How one manages to ruin a franchise as wholly entertaining as The Transporter is a complete mystery, but the Besson acolyte is so incompetent he managed to find a way. Through a mixture of editing that would require Michael Bay to take a fist load of Dramamine in order to not get sick and compositions that seem to be comprised solely of basic coverage, The Transporter 3 isn’t just bad -- it’s downright unwatchable. To be fair, the director isn’t the only culprit here, as Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen fuss with the formula entirely too much, stripping away the simplicity of the original in favor of some Z-Grade Bond tomfoolery.
It’s a real shame that they had to go and kill off Frank Martin with such overt ineptitude, as one could imagine Statham making these movies until his body falls apart. But the role that originally trumpeted the action star’s arrival becomes a by the numbers sleepwalk in the third film, as even the fight scenes lack the wanton cartoonish nature of the first two. You can feel Statham attempting to stay engaged, but when he’s stripped of his trusty sidekick (François Berléand’s Tarconi really is one of the best “little buddies” in all of action cinema) and is instead saddled with a former Russian hairdresser (Natalya Rudakova), one can’t help but just feel sorry for the British bruiser. The Transporter 3 is abysmal dreck, made worse by the fact that it utterly wastes Statham’s most iconic role.
31. 13  (d. Géla Babluani, w. Géla Babluani & Greg Pruss)
Total Head-butts: 0
When it comes to European filmmakers remaking their own works for American audiences, the outcome is usually divided into two categories. There are the purposeful statements like Haneke’s Funny Games; comments on not only the director’s own work but also a larger, overarching cinematic thesis. Then there are remakes like George Sluzier’s The Vanishing, which essentially dumb down an already riveting story for the mall crowd. Sadly, Georgian filmmaker GélaBabluani’s re-envisioning of his brief, stark, brutal 13 Tzameti falls into the latter classification, as it casts a gaggle of recognizable faces (Ray Winstone, Michael Shannon, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Mickey Rourke) in a slick, glossy retelling that doesn’t pack half the neorealist wallop of the 2005 original. The story of a down on his luck electrician (Sam Riley) who stumbles into a ring of rich men who gamble on a Russian Roulette competitions, 13 feels like an attempt to capitalize on a post-Hostel horror crowd. Only there’s nothing really to the movie outside of a few suspenseful moments where we wait for characters to pull the trigger. Babluani all but telegraphs the ending early on, leaving the audience to simply cycle through the motions of this rote, “high concept” thriller. The cast list will probably intrigue you, but don’t be fooled. This one’s a straight up slog.
Worst of all is the fact that Statham really isn’t given much to do outside of don a fedora and watch from a crowd of well-tailored suits as men stick revolvers in one another’s faces. The role is something of a baffling choice at this point in Statham’s career, as one can’t help but wonder if the only attraction to the role was an opportunity to hang out on set with the rest of his slumming co-stars. However, Babluani squanders Statham’s potential, as his big emotional moment is muted by a droning musical cue and the director’s choice to focus on just about everything else in the room. There’s a reason this was dumped on video by Anchor Bay with little to no fanfare – its got a lot of cool faces on the box to sell you, but nothing in terms of actual substance.
30. GNOMEO & JULIET  (d. Kelly Asbury, w. Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Mark Burton, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Steve Hamilton Shaw, Kelly Asbury, Rob Sprackling & John R. Smith)
Total Head-butts: 0
Were I to actually have children (an act which my wife and I have sworn will never happen), I guess I would be happy to have my son or daughter watching an animated adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romero & Juliet, even if it did involve English lawn gnomes. But I don’t have children. I’m a grown man. I can read Shakespeare if I want to. And even if I wanted to watch an animated film, I’d surely pick one that was a little better designed than Gnomeo & Juliet. Boxy and stiff, all of the characters feel like rejected Lego figures, lacking any kind of notable design work. The voice cast is impressive, featuring Michael Caine, Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Dolly Parton and, of course, Jason Statham. Elton John turns in a re-working of his Greatest Hits catalogue that doubles as a score. But the script (which was written by a literal legion of scribes) is lackluster and lazy, dumbing down an ancient love story with lawnmower chases and ornaments dressing up as ninjas. Yes, this movie is not for me. But I can also recognize a lifeless stab at the children’s market that features almost zero artistic merit. This is that.
In all honesty, I toyed with leaving Gnomeo & Juliet off this list until I actually watched it. Statham’s hamming it up hardcore here, emphasizing his gravelly voice and relishing a voice-acting role that allows him to be a bug-eyed dad, doing goo-goo ga-ga nonsense for theaters full of rugrats. There’s not much else here in terms of performance, but you can feel Statham having a bit of fun being away from kicking people in the face and shooting machine guns at an oncoming onslaught of bad guys. Gnomeo & Juliet is most certainly an outlier in his filmography, but needs to be discussed in its context simply because the picture is further proof that “no” does not exist in his vocabulary.
29. THE ONE  (d. James Wong, w. Glen Morgan & James Wong)
Alias: MVA Agent Evan Funsch
Total Head-butts: 0
In theory, a film in which Jet Li jumps from dimension to dimension (via some sort of silliness called the "Multiverse") trying to murder all of his doppelgängers in an attempt to harvest their power should be the greatest movie ever made. However, it's made abundantly clear from the movie's first two action set pieces (which are respectively set to nu-metal cuts like Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” and Disturbed’s “The Sickness”) that The One is nothing more than a thinly veiled rip-off of The Matrix, right down to the shameless title. Worse yet, the movie comes from James Wong and Glen Morgan, who both had a hand in creating seminal episodes of The X-Files (not to mention the amazing Final Destination series and Black Christmas remake). There are moments peppered in that are certainly fun (the final fight between dual Lis showered in factory sparks almost makes the whole picture worth it) and the concept is gonzo enough to warrant a look, but then Wong & Morgan needle drop Papa Roach in the Epilogue, and it's time to reach for your revolver.
However, none of these glaring flaws are why the The One nearly anchors this list. Arguably the nadir of Statham's career, he had to retreat to England and France immediately after the movie bombed in order to rehabilitate. Not only does Wong inexplicably ask the British brute to jettison his thick accent in favor of a generic Texas (?) twang, the movie never develops his character beyond being a gawking subordinate, breathlessly chasing the pint-sized time traveler. It’s a sidekick role that feels beneath even 90s Kevin Pollack, as his Agent Funsch simply stumbles from one scene to another, watching in awe as Jet Li kicks the shit out of whole hallways full of bad guys. You'd think once he's partnered with the great Delroy Lindo early on in the film that he'd at least have some kind of admirable zingers or, at the very least, chemistry. But The One is the ultimate example of how casting directors didn't quite "get" Statham yet. Best left on the $5 shelf at Target, The One is at least responsible for sending Statham back overseas so that he could figure out how to re-invent himself. The result would be a career reinvigoration that delivered the barrel of ownage we know and love today, so I guess James Wong's disaster at least has that going for it.
28. TURN IT UP  (d. & w. Robert Adetuyi)
Alias: Mr. B
Total Head-butts: 0
Pras wants to be the greatest rapper in Canada. Ja Rule just wants to pop bottles and shoot people. I don't really know what Jason Statham wants in this movie, outside of a new shirt and maybe some Certs. Half gaudy music video, half self-serious mope session, Turn It Up gave birth to Drake. Meanwhile, Robert Adetuyi (Stomp The Yard) peppers in some SyFy style Uzi shootouts. It's no wonder I had to search high and low for a copy of this movie, as it's basically the best thing that's ever been committed to videotape. New Line Cinema was a disaster by the year 2000, churning out low rent nonsense that wouldn't feel out of place being produced by schlock exploitation houses like AVCO Embassy in 1976. Cheap and written with an ear for the absurd (Pras' speech about the philosophical underpinnings of the umbilical cord is multiple rewind-worthy), Turn It Up's badness is heightened by action scenes from an entirely different picture. If William Girdler were alive in 2000, this would be his favorite film.
But I bet even William Girdler would agree that Statham is the worst thing about the movie. Generically British while dealing gigantic bricks of...something (it's never made clear just what’s in those bowling ball-sized brown packages), Statham must've had a mortgage payment due (or Vinnie Jones wasn't picking up the phone that week). Telephoning it in from the moment Adetuyi’s camera staggers in on him sitting behind a desk (a position Statham’s in for a great amount of his screen time), Turn It Up completely wastes both his physical and comedic presence. Even Chris Messina's Abel Ferrara impersonation can't make up for the charisma void the movie creates by relegating Statham to nothing more than a stock thug. Except the part where Statham threatens Ja Rule with an electric deli meat slicer. That part's pretty cool.
27. KILLER ELITE  (d. Gary McKendry, w. Matt Sherring)
Total Head-butts: 0
Featuring zero ninjas (or any other comparable qualities to Sam Peckinpah’s 1975 picture of the same title), Killer Elite wants to be a morally hazy spy thriller, and director Gary McKendry wants to explore the emotional ambiguities of killing in the name of preventing further bloodshed. But the ethical and political elements revolving around this team of killers attempting to assassinate each other in 1980 amount to little more than window dressing for DTV action. Clocking in at a seemingly interminable 105 minutes, Killer Elite drags on so long that the actors playing out this dull, dreary story of men with guns seem to be exhausted by the picture’s final reel. It’s a movie so cliché that the third act is interspersed with emotional pronouncements that all of the double-crossing and killing must stop --pleas for mercy for not only each other, but the audience as well. To top it all off, Killer Elite contradicts its own opening title card, in which it claims to be based on a true story. It’s a final middle finger equivalent to Kevin Smith playing the dumbass podcast that inspired Tusk over that film’s end credits. “We somehow tricked you assholes into staying put,” the movie sneers back at you from the screen. “And now we’re going to rub your face in our mean-spirited prank one last time.”
Killer Elite features a Statham performance so dull that you honestly wonder why he didn’t quit halfway through shooting. After delivering a weird balance of menace and comedy in Blitz, Statham stubbornly returns to being a stoic void; not only refusing to expand on his steely persona, but also seemingly taking a step backward in the charisma department. He’s scowling and all business, rendering his elite former Special Forces Air Serviceman a one note yawn who is only motivated by stock nonsense (namely to get out of the killing business). The soldier longs for a less violent life, but after his mentor (Robert De Niro – in a shining example of his full blown “who gives a fuck” era) is kidnapped, he’s forced back into action (ugh). Thank goodness for Clive Owen’s goofy mustache and Dominic Purcell’s pasted on mutton chop sideburns. If it weren’t for these pieces of ridiculous facial hair, there’d be literally nothing to enjoy in Killer Elite. Except for a crazy chair flip Statham pulls off. You’ll know it when (if?) you see it. That moment is pretty badass.
26. THE EXPENDABLES 2  (d. Simon West, w. Richard Wenk & Sylvester Stallone)
Alias: Lee Christmas
Total Head-butts: 0
Sylvester Stallone’s first Expendables film was fueled almost entirely by nostalgia, not just for a time when muscle-headed goons cracked wise and skulls in equal measure, but also for a style of motion picture (think the Golan-Globus productions from Cannon Films) that were jam packed with death-defying stunts, scorching explosions, and legions of Indigenous Peoples of Wherever being annihilated by dialogue-challenged white men. But The Expendables 2 seeks to turn what was initially nothing more than a novelty item into a full-blown franchise. In the process, the wistfulness quickly wears off, replaced by a reminder that most of the movies this new series of squib-laden nonsense draws inspiration from bordered on being unwatchable. Possibly the most egregious error the second Expendables movie makes is that it constantly reminds you that the “movie stars” it has re-collected out of various ‘roided out retirement homes really weren’t that charismatic in the first place. And now that they’re all broken down pieces of meat (to quote one Expendable’s Oscar nominated role), it becomes readily apparent that the muscle mass which took the place of genuine gravitas looks like nothing more than steak left out of the fridge for too long -- brown, shriveled and (more than likely) kinda stinky. To cap it all off, the skeletal remains of Chuck Norris show up to remind us all that there’s a reason many of these 80s slaughter kingpins have becomes ironic Internet memes; they’re avatars for a genre that, for the most part, is better off relegated to boyhood memories of basement movie marathons.
In contrast, Jason Statham is quite the limber beast compared to his oaky counterparts, as the movie leans on the star for its most exciting action. A square off against DTV Ninja knucklehead fighter Scott Adkins (whose lack of anything resembling magnetism makes Statham look like Laurence Olivier by comparison) is a highlight, as is his usual commitment to over the top stunts. But there’s an enthusiasm missing here that was present in the first outing. The relationship between Statham’s Lee Christmas and Stallone’s Barney Ross doesn’t have the same homoerotic umph that the first’s did. Instead, we’re stuck with Christmas’ girlfriend constantly calling and interrupting ‘guy time’. To add insult to injury, Liam Hemsworth is a threat to Barney and Lee’s bond, as the movie emphasizes Thor’s brother’s cat eyes to maximum effect. It’s all very silly and Statham seems to be in on the joke, but that doesn’t make it any more engaging or tolerable. This is a bad movie all the way around, ready made to be unremembered after you drink a case of beer while it plays on TBS in the background.
25. CHAOS  (d. & w. Tony Giglio)
Alias: Quentin Conners
Total Head-butts: 0
Cobbled together from scraps of 90s cop movie clichés (complete with a topless woman wielding a baseball bat a la Point Break), Chaos is DTV boredom that is only watchable due to its minor competency. A rogue bank robber (Wesley Snipes) draws disgraced cop Quentin Conners (Statham) into his "chaos theory" inspired web of insanity. This plays out exactly how you probably imagine, with Conners dogged by an IA hound (the always welcome Henry Czerny) and saddled with a super bland "straight guy" partner (Ryan Phillippe). Monochromatic and rarely giving you a reason to care, Chaos offers up a few decent car chases and crashes, but little else (except for maybe Wesley Snipes' super pimp hat). The movie languished without a US release for years thanks to a botched financial deal with Screen Gems revolving around release prints and advertising, until Lionsgate finally picked it up and dumped it straight to video in 2008. Not a complete waste of time, but it comes close.
One can't help but wonder if Statham would've preferred the movie remain in overseas markets, as it contains perhaps his drowsiest performance. Granted, it doesn’t help that his partner is just a fleshy mound of soft serve yogurt with daddy issues. The chemistry between Statham and Phillippe isn't just bad, it's non-existent, as both cycle through a lack of emotion as colorless as the Seattle scenery that surrounds them. If anything, the only positive quality Chaos speaks to is the actor's insane work ethic, as he appeared in six movies between 2004 and 2005. Interestingly enough, Giglio would go on to write DTV sequels to Statham's Death Race remake, both of which are better than the actual movie he made with the action star.
24. IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SEIGE TALE  (d. Uwe Boll, w. Doug Taylor)
Total Head-butts: 2 (Statham Ownerd)
Head-butt Victims: 2 Goblins (Pig Men?)
In retrospect, it’s somewhat hilarious that Statham would appear in a quite literal piece of “Videogamesploitation” (directed by infamous genre punchline Uwe Boll, nonetheless) a mere year after appearing in Crank, perhaps the greatest movie inspired by the medium. Joining him is a veritable cavalcade of WTF casting, including Burt Reynolds as a gluttonous suzerain, Ray Liotta as his evil counterpart, Matthew Lillard as the court jester (?), Ron Perlman as Little John, and Gimli from Lord of the Rings. No Boll picture is good, but this one is undoubtedly a barrel of laughs, containing cut screen landscapes and make-up on an army of trolls that would make the Dick Smith-obsessed creepy kid who grew up next door to you look like Tom Savini by comparison. Still, using a loose definition of the word, Boll is “competent” here in relation to his other work, turning In the Name of the King into the Death Wish of Asylum-grade Peter Jackson knockoffs. Also, how much can you hate a movie where [SPOILER ALERT] Burt Reynolds ends up being a boomerang-tossing Jason Statham’s dad? [You weren’t going to watch it, anyway. Don’t front.]
If anything, In the Name of the King yet again proves that Statham is simply a workhorse. There’s really no reason for him to take a role in a Uwe Boll film, except to keep himself constantly employed. And who can blame the guy? Employed is a damn good thing to be. This bottomless ethic is also part of what has made him such a ubiquitous icon. You don’t become a household name unless those who live in said houses are bringing you up two or three times a year. There is seemingly no difference between “high” and “low” for the actor, as Statham navigates both huge budget blockbusters like The Italian Job while also working in a German tax shelter title that purely gets him paid. Sure, In the Name of the King may make some “Worst of the Year” lists, but there’s his mug again, invading your mindscape. In short, the movie may be a piece of shit, but it’s a job. And jobs lead to more jobs. That’s blue collar logic at its best, and part of the reason Statham, despite his seemingly superhuman abilities, still can seem like a guy punching a clock, just like you or I.
23. THE EXPENDABLES  (d. Sylvester Stallone, w. Sylvester Stallone & Dave Callaham)
Alias: Lee Christmas
Total Head-butts: 0 (This is Bullshit, Sly)
The Expendables feels like it’s a few well-timed ZAZ-style gags away from being a full-blown parody, and that’s somewhat charming. The sheer ludicrousness of gathering nearly every muscle head action star from the past thirty or so years into one movie is one that reads quite silly on paper. Yet Stallone (along with screenwriter Dave Callaham) embraces the goofiness of it all for the most part. It really isn’t until the movie’s back half, when it starts to take itself a bit too seriously, that The Expendables becomes something of a drag; like your funny uncle suddenly got too drunk and started reminiscing about his long gone glory days. It’s too bad really, as The Expendables should be the “action flick to end all actions flicks”, but instead adds up to being only a mild diversion, good for a zone out when nothing else in the Netflix queue is quite catching your fancy.
Even though the movie is somewhat lame, The Expendables feels like a key role in the filmography of Jason Statham, as he and Stallone’s Barney Ross make for one of the greatest baby oil-loving screen couples of all time. Stallone was incredibly smart in giving Statham the role of Lee Christmas (God, what a name), as he recognized not only the star’s incredible physical presence, but also his expert comedic timing. Watching the two bicker like an old married couple is the movie’s major appeal, as we’re glad to not have to be subjected to Mickey Rourke’s constant gurgling of “Hey Brother” or Dolph Lundgren’s undercooked traitor role (what a waste of good Dolph this movie is). There’s also a scene where Rourke describes the muscles on Statham’s head, which may or may not be the gayest moment in action cinema history (he could just as easily be talking about the hood of a penis). On the whole the movie never quite lives up to the potential it promises. But the bromance between Stallone and Statham is worth the disappointment you probably feel once the end credits of the The Expendables begin to roll.
22. THE ITALIAN JOB  (d. F. Gary Gray, w. Donna & Wayne Powers)
Alias: Handsome Rob
Total Head-butts: 0 (Unless You Count the Headache This Movie Induces)
Motherfuck F. Gary Gray, indeed. A remake of the 1969 Michael Caine heist picture of the same name, The Italian Job is remarkably bland and irrefutably boring. It’s mall crowd dreck in the Ocean's 11 mold; only instead of having a visual genius like Soderbergh behind the lens, we have the guy who made Friday (and I LIKE that movie). Edward Norton's mustache and Mos Def's line delivery might be the most interesting parts of this parade of cinematic Chobani yogurt, as it even manages to make Wally Pfister's globe-hopping photography seem uninspired. If seems like I'm coming on strong, it's because I am. The Italian Job is a blockbuster devoid of artfulness, rendering even an old school legend like Donald Sutherland completely devoid of allure. So, of course, it went on to gross over $100 million at the box office.
To add insult to injury, The Italian Job feels like one giant leap backward for Statham following his incredible, star-making turn in The Transporter. The only thing saving this film from not placing dead last on this list is the fact that it acts as a somewhat reliable gauge for his onscreen wattage. Statham holds his own next to Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron, which is a testament to his budding confidence as a movie star. He's not given much at all -- or anything, really -- to do in the picture, but the tiny moments of magic are bright spots in this otherwise turgid turd. Watching Seth Green try and vomit up his best impersonation of the bald bruiser is somewhat amusing, as it becomes clear that Statham as a persona was something to be admired and imitated. It's a flat performance in flat film, but also the last time for roughly half a decade that Statham would let a large ensemble cast swallow him whole.
21. LONDON  (d. & w. Hunter Richards)
Total Head-butts: 0 (Though He Does Go Totally Apeshit at One Point)
If you've ever had the desire to watch Chev Chelios and Captain America do blow together in a bathroom for ninety minutes, London is the motion picture for you. Ostensibly the cinematic distillation of being completely coked out of your gourd, to the point that you discuss God and women pissing in your mouth ad nauseam, Hunter Richards has basically combined the cold, over-privileged meanness of Bret Easton Ellis with Richard Linklater's warm examinations of how time leaves its mark on human beings. While London is certainly not as good as even the worst work of either of those two artists, there's enough weird casting and moments of head-scratching daftness to make the movie's runtime breeze by in a blink. In fact, London almost feels like watching a collection of actors and comedians just on the cusp of being famous. Nearly ten years on, we can look back and examine just who made the grade or not. Louis CK might be in a bit role as Evans' character's therapist, but he certainly has a more viable filmic career than Dane Cook (who appears as a random player at a party). Meanwhile, the camera is all about ogling Jessica Biel's body, but she and Isla Fisher (who is barely noticed by Richards' lens) would swap star wattage in 2015. Both Statham and Evans are nigh recognizable, as Steve Rogers looks like a sweaty refugee from a Seattle grunge band, and the British bruiser sports a toupee fit for Danny DeVito. London is undoubtedly a stilted mess, but it's certainly fascinating as a "where were they then" time capsule.
Best of all, Richards' movie is the first (and last) time Jason Statham would ever try and attempt to "ACK-TOR" Jason Statham. Despite delivering four pages of monologue the same way he would an ultimatum to a Chinese kidnapper, Statham's facial expressions range from "kinda constipated" to "what am I actually doing here?” There isn't a truly believable moment that the man delivers, but that ends up making London feel imperative to his career. This is the movie where Statham learned his limitations. He was never going to be some kind of black box wunderkind, alternating between big screen action adventures and off-Broadway embarrassments. However, Statham is desperately trying to stretch himself, even in basic aesthetic terms (when you first see him with hair you honestly won’t believe it's the same guy). No doubt a terrible casting decision on the Richards’ part, London nevertheless is a key moment to the ass-kicker's career. And even when he falls flat on his face, Jason Statham does so with everything he's got, as if he's literally trying to wax the floor with his grizzled mug.
20. CELLULAR  (d. David R. Ellis, w. Chris Morgan)
Total Head-butts: 1 (And It's Savage)
Head-butt Victim: Captain America
Larry Cohen is a genius. Even though his original story idea was re-written to be a David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2) New Line thriller, Cellular still retains the grindhouse kingpin’s love of the high concept. Treating cell phones like some sort of rare commodity, there's an old fashioned, codger attitude regarding technology injected into a fairly basic kidnapping yarn. There are countless moments where future Steve Rogers (a scrawny-by-Marvel-standards Chris Evans) shouts at folks to "get off their cell phones", all while his is plastered to his ear in a race against time. Even though screenwriter Chris Morgan basically rewrote Cohen's script from scratch (in original drafts, we never actually leave Evans' character as he frantically searches for Kim Basinger's abducted suburban mother), it still retains a curmudgeonly air. This crankiness is possibly best exemplified by Evans being ignored in a crowded Nokia store by listless employees while breathlessly searching for a charger. "This modern world is so rude and backwards," the movie declares with a blaring neon sign, going as far as to use middle class white people who listen to rap music as a potentially deadly plot point.
Cellular is the perfect example of a film Jason Statham appeared in that's technically a pretty solid picture, but isn't a good "Jason Statham picture." It's much more of a Chris Evans vehicle, showcasing the young star in a demo reel for the talents we'd come to witness over the next decade (the abysmal Fantastic Four film -- which Evans was certainly the best part of -- wouldn't even come out until the following year). Unfortunately, Statham is relegated once again to playing a generic heavy with a name that doesn't even fit with the rest of his previous monikers (how do you cast a guy who's played characters named "Jerico Butler" and "Bacon" as an LA cop named "Ethan"?). He barely has any lines in the movie as he threatens Kim Basinger and hounds Evans and William H. Macy (whose beat cop who aspires to own a day spa is a real treat). Even bit characters like a nameless lawyer (played by future Hostel jag off Rick Hoffman) get to have more fun onscreen that Statham. Cellular is certainly a blast, but it misuses a big league talent by turning him into a "that guy". To be fair, Statham didn't have a bona fide hit under his belt yet (even The Transporter only grossed $25 million in America on a budget of $21 million) and would have to retreat back into the arms of Luc Besson in order to break on through to the other side of stardom.
19. THE EXPENDABLES 3  (d. Patrick Hughes, w. Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger & Katrin Benedikt)
Alias: Lee Christmas
Total Head-butts: 1
Head-butt Victims: Nameless Henchman
By a franchise’s third installment, you’re either going to be onboard with the vibe a string of films is putting out, or you’re going to be moving right along to the next round of serialized storytelling that may or may not be a complete waste of your time (as is the gamble diving into any series). But while The Expendables 3 is most certainly more of the same as the first two buff, brain-dead action novelties, it actually has the good sense to bring the death (sans blood in order to obtain a somewhat inexplicable PG-13 rating) while never sinking to the goofy melodrama that plagued the first two installments. Sylvester Stallone (along with directing puppet Patrick Hughes and co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt) keeps the proceedings light and goofy, playing up the relationship between Barney Ross and Lee Christmas (to maximum comedic effect) while wrangling in a new legion of action figureheads from the past. Wesley Snipes cracks jokes about taxes while reminding us why we always should “bet on black”, and Mel Gibson gets to stomp about and chew scenery as Conrad Stonebanks, the big bad who relishes his Bond villain-worthy monologues. Possibly the most welcome addition is Antonio Banderas, re-teaming with Sly for the first time since the Wachowski-penned Assassins (which is terrible, but whatever), who gets to yet again prove why he’s one of the smoothest human beings on the planet. Look – this is the best of a notably bad series, but there’s certainly fun to be had, mainly due to the fact that the third film ramps up the self-awareness and just lets it all hang out. The true shame is that this isn’t where the Expendables franchise started, as it might’ve actually turned into a beloved staple for semi-ironic admirers (a la the Fast & Furious pictures) instead of just being the exception to the series standard of quality.
Unfortunately, the most notable bit about Statham’s experience on the set of Expendables 3 is the fact that he almost didn’t make it out of the movie alive. Performing a truck stunt, he drove a rig off a bridge by accident when the brakes on the vehicle failed. Relying on his diving skills, Statham fortunately survived to deliver a fairly standard comedic performance, bouncing off of Sly’s Barney Ross. The relationship between the two is really the heart of the Expendables franchise, as Statham and Stallone share a really special chemistry that the movies float on. This is fairly standard homoerotic throbbing muscle buddy stuff, but it’s charming and affable and just entertaining enough to make you not check your watch during the moments when the bullets are no longer flying.
18. LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS  (d. & w. Guy Ritchie)
Total Head-butts: 0
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a perfect example of the evil that followed in Tarantino's wake. What possibly seemed hip and inventive in 1998 is now stale and (to be completely honest) totally lackluster in 2015. The machine gun firing of Cockney zingers is fun for a bit, but slowly becomes stale and abrasive as the picture goes on. Revisiting the movie seventeen years later reveals Lock Stock to be nothing more than a glorified student film, complete with QT-style needle drops, references to Leone spaghetti westerns and Coppola's The Conversation. Not enough bullshit James Brown music cues can make this movie feel "cool". It's akin to watching your dad sing along to his favorite Motown records on a long road trip -- he's just trying to impress you and it's sort of endearing. But then he farts in the middle of the Delfonics and the rest of the ride is smelly and awkward.
Also disappointing is realizing just how much of a side role Statham plays in his first on-screen appearance. Ritchie apparently cast the former French Connection model and diver because of his shady past as a black market salesman. The appeal is evident, as every time he's on screen, your eye is drawn to his presence. The rest of the gang his character runs with are like British schoolboys, while Statham has the ruggedly handsome exterior of a warrior. However, there's not a whole lot of flexing going on, physically or comedic, but some of his timing (especially in reaction shots) is spot on. Thankfully, Statham graduated to center stage with Ritchie's next picture, as it was clear that he had a bit more star potential than, say, Jason Flemyng.
17. GHOSTS OF MARS  (d. John Carpenter, w. Larry Sulkis & John Carpenter)
Alias: Sgt. Jerico Butler
Total Head-butts: 1
Head-butt Victim: 1 Miner Possessed By Martian Spirits
Ghosts of Mars is Carpenter repeating himself, both in terms of craft and content. The craft is a good thing, as the movie feels incredibly "old school"; widescreen cinematography that shoots the filmographies of Howard Hawks and John Ford into outer space. Cursorily a Cowboys & Indians picture, Ghosts comes complete with wary antiheroes and savage redskins (the movie has some really odd racial politics -- pointed out best by my man, Phil Nobile, Jr. on this very site). Unfortunately, the casting reads great on paper but comes off unexciting onscreen. Natasha Henstridge feels authentically stoned as the lone survivor recounting her adventures before a tribunal (the flashback structure lets Carpenter creating a bleeding onslaught of dissolves). Ice Cube is having fun as Desolation Williams (who Statham was initially supposed to play), but never really feels intimidating. Pam Greer mugs it up for her limited amount of screen time and Statham...well, we'll get to him in a minute. To be fair, Carpenter may have gotten a bit of the short end in 2001 for this one, as Ghosts of Mars is arguably his most auteurist work. It just feels like a trite retread is all, complete with a Rio Bravo standoff that he'd done better in Assault On Precinct Thirteen and a very similar villain to his (somewhat underrated) Vampires.
As far as Statham goes, Ghosts of Mars is definitely the middle film in the weakest period of his career (though it does contain his first onscreen head-butt! -- albeit in the background of Carpenter's frame). Post-Guy Ritchie American casting directors didn't seem like they really knew what the hell to do with the British badass. He hadn't yet proven himself to be leading man material, and his imposing physique and unique look made him much easier to cast as a heavy instead of a heartthrob. Inopportunely, his agent did him no favors; the one-two punch of Turn It Up and Ghosts of Mars (both of which combined for a whopping $10 million in box office receipts) almost relegated him to side roles for the rest of his career. That's not to lay the blame completely away from Statham's feet. While he's certainly having a ball in Carpenter's Space Western, acting as a lecherous sex object in a society run by women, there's nothing really remarkable about the role at all. Had Snatch and Lock Stock not existed, you'd wonder why anyone cast this dude at all in movies, as he comes off like a snarling bowl of vanilla pudding. And what's up with the peach fuzz, Jason? I can't help but imagine Carpenter chain-smoking cigarettes off-camera and cracking wise about how Statham's mom forgot to take her little fuzzy-headed angel to the barber that week.
16. WAR  (d. Philip G. Atwell, w. Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley)
Total Head-butts: 1 (Jet Li Owned)
Head-butt Victims: Motorcycle Yakuza
We’ve never been blessed as a people by a Walter Hill-helmed Jason Statham vehicle and, at the rate Hill has been producing work in the twilight of his career, it doesn’t seem as if that miracle is ever going to happen. So what the human race is going to have to settle for is a Hill knockoff from a director best known for lensing Eminem tour footage. While the framing is distinctly “music video” in influence, there’s a jittery vibe to the editing, as scenes never seem to go on long enough and the action is harsh, bordering on mean-spirited. Most reminiscent of Hill is the minimalistic, threadbare story, in which an FBI Agent (Statham) takes revenge on the whole of the Asain underworld in retaliation for the murder of his partner. Does War ever reach the dizzying height of such genre staples such as 48 Hrs. or Red Heat? Hell no. If we’re being fair, it’s more in league with Johnny Handsome. But it’s fun to watch Philip Atwell trot out veteran character actors like John Lone (Year of the Dragon), Saul Rubinek (True Romance) and Luis Guzman (Out of Sight) while never quite knowing what to do with them. The end result is not much of a movie, but still pretty enjoyable nonetheless.
After the debacle that is In the Name of the King, War finds Statham getting into something of groove. There’s not much to Crawford as a character, but re-teaming with Corey Yuen as fight choreographer for the first time since the first two Transporter films allows Statham to flow through stylishly choreographed fight scenes, which he again makes look effortless. This enthusiasm is definitely much needed, as Jet Li looks bored and unengaged for the entire runtime (the Hong Kong action star has publicly denounced the movie as being a miserable experience). War kicks off a kind of “bread and butter” period in Statham’s career, as there would be no more dabbling in indie dramas of Larry Cohen-influenced genre pictures, but rather bulldozing action movies from here on out. Just how Mean Machine first found him returning to his roots after exploring some rather odd avenues, War is a back-to-basics bit of action star acting, and we’re all the better for it.
15. SNATCH  (d. & w. Guy Ritchie)
Total Head-butts: 0
Snatch is better than Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which isn't really saying much. Ritchie's second foray into the world of London scumbags is much more colorful and ADD-addled than his debut, playing like animated panels from some lost underground gangster comic. The characters all carry cartoonish monikers (Brick Top, Bullet Tooth Tony) and act so over the top that, when the director attempts to transition into the film's darker sections, the movie is bound to give viewers tonal whiplash. Tack on the fact that it's readily apparent Ritchie "shoots for the edit" (the back and forth cross-cutting during minor dialogue scenes is headache-inducing) and you have a film that can only be loved with a great big load of qualifiers. Almost saving it all is Dennis Farina; whose diamond obsessed Cousin Avi is a foul-mouthed wonder, and Brad Pitt, mumbling indecipherable Irish gibberish until the break of dawn.
The other good news is that Statham gets to be placed front and center for the first time. Delivering Ritchie's overly expository narration like Britain's version of Mike Hammer and wearing a trench-coat like a goddamn Adonis, there's a swagger emerging in him that proves just how much of a natural he is onscreen. While the majority of his subsequent career would be a testament to his athletic prowess, credit has to be paid to Ritchie for figuring out just how funny Statham can be. Where Much of Lock Stock has him mugging from the frame's edges, Snatch makes him the focal point in the ensemble, creating a testament to his timing. It's no wonder the next decade he would see Statham packing in over forty roles onto his resume. I may not love Guy Ritchie's movies (or even really like them, frankly), but if it weren't for the future mangler of Wertmüller's Swept Away, we wouldn't have one of our most engaging modern genre talents.
14. PARKER  (d. Taylor Hackford, w. John J. McLaughlin)
Total Head-butts: 0
The thought of Jason Statham trying to find his inner Lee Marvin is one that tickles. In all honesty, he almost gets there, but one just wishes that he had a better spirit guide than Taylor Hackford. Parker is saved by Statham, who really goes “goofy 70s” with the performance, donning wigs, dressing up like a priest and a cowboy at respective points in the film, and then brooding in order to reel in a recently divorced Jennifer Lopez. Lopez is trying to return to her Out of Sight grandeur, but she’s missing Soderbergh and, well…you know the rest of this story. Parker is a competent movie but it never becomes a great one, however committed its actors are to the lukewarm cause (wait until you get a load of Bobby Cannavale’s Rock Hudson impersonation). John Boorman’s Point Blank is a classic neo-noir, and if you’re going to watch a Donald Westlake adaptation, it should surely be that one. However, two hours spent with Parker is still a damn good time at the movies. You’ll even have some familiar faces (Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr.) to keep you company, all of whom put in equally inspired work.
As mentioned above, Statham goes the extra mile in this one. Were the movie better, this might actually be the “ultimate Jason Statham picture”, as he has no problem slipping into a ridiculous Texas twang or really embracing his status as a sex symbol. Had the movie not tanked at the box office, Parker could’ve been a great jumping off point for a Westlake franchise – one where Statham gets to play hard boiled noir for ninety minutes every year or two. Instead, it’s a one off, much like the wonderful ’68 crime ensemble, The Split. Though at least when you have Jason Statham jumping characters and trying to run ridiculous cons, you get a few movies’ worth of work crammed into one failed experiment.
13. REVOLVER  (d. Guy Ritchie, w. Guy Ritchie & Luc Besson)
Alias: Jake Green
Total Head-butts: 1 (If You Count Jason Statham Falling Head Over Heels Down a Flight of Stairs In Slow Motion)
Head-butt Victim: Aforementioned Steps
Cinematically banging their heads against the wall, Statham re-teamed with Guy Ritchie to deliver what is probably their most frustrating yet rewarding collaboration. Revolver sees Ritchie tossing aside the quick cut editing and rapid-fire dialogue in favor of a much more measured approach (relatively speaking, of course). The touchtone here is Scorsese's Casino, not only in operatic ambition, but also in the way Statham and Ritchie want to retool what the audience thinks is familiar. The result is visually interesting yet narratively inert; overblown jock machismo caught in the classics aisle (the movie starts with no less than four title cards, quoting everyone from Julius Caesar to Machiavelli). Yet Ritchie still manages to stick to the shtick, casting Big Pussy Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore) to be the soothsayer and Andre 3000 to be the guardian angel of a claustrophobic card shark (Statham), headed up against a ruthless Vegas boss (Ray Liotta, bronzed into oblivion). Most memorable of all is Marc Strong, mumbling his way through being a hitman known for never missing his mark. It really isn't until the film's back half, when Ritchie shoehorns in British gangsters and hyperactive edits for no other reason than he seems artistically obligated (a shootout involving Strong is particularly egregious in this respect) that the movie loses steam. A bummer really, as you can feel the director straining against himself, knowing that he has to break free from his post-Tarantino pastiche in order to keep things engaging.
Statham feels stuck between gears in Revolver, and that's not necessarily a criticism. Gone completely is Frank Martin's chic confidence, replaced by a sort of daze that noir heartthrobs Jeff Bailey or Harry Angel could admire. Head covered in a wet, stringy mullet and devoid of any humorous bones, Statham levitates through the picture, tugged in all directions by adversaries that know much more about the scenario than he. But there's a lack of vanity that feels fresh at this point in his filmography; a rejection of the action hero mold that Hollywood tried to place on him. Statham would (obviously) eventually succumb to the type, but Revolver feels like a key moment in his evolution as a performer. So much of Ritchie’s movie is preoccupied with the death of ego, and its star seems to understand that he was at a crossroads in his career. This weird, aloof edge would infect the rest of his performances from here on out, as he balances it with the energy he harnessed in Luc Besson's Transporter movies. Revolver is maligned by many for understandable reasons, but in the context of both Ritchie and Statham's respective careers, it’s actually a fascinating case of artists trying to shed what they were known for and elevate themselves to a different level.
12. MEAN MACHINE  (d. Barry Skolnick, w. Tracy Kennan Wynn, Charlie Fletcher, Chris Baker & Andrew Day)
Total Head-butts: 6 (4 Non-Statham, 2 Statham)
Head-butt Victims: 4 Anonymous Soccer Stunt Man, 1 Soccer Ball
Since becoming transformed into a kind of British Wil E. Coyote by Guy Ritchie, it's somewhat easy for audiences (American audiences, at least) to forget that Vinnie Jones was once a star for the one of the world's most recognizable football franchise (Wimbledon, for those raised on the Philadelphia Eagles). One of the true “hard men”, there's a bit of self-parody going on with his starring role in the Matthew Vaughn-produced remake of Robert Aldrich's 1974 "prison sport" classic The Longest Yard. But Jones really brings his all to the role, working in some vulnerability so that he can break down the cartoonish persona he'd built with a few films and actually play a legit human being. The results are better than both of the Guy Ritchie films Vaughn produced via Ska Films, as it's a basic bitch piece of British filmmaking that remembers flair ain't shit when compared to a damn good story. Mean Machine hits all of the "inspirational sports movie" clichés like clockwork, but that doesn't render it any less affecting. Jones would go on playing the thug following some awkward personal moments (like getting drunk on a plane and threatening to beat up the whole crew in 2003), but we'll always have Mean Machine to remind us that, for a fleeting moment, it seemed as if there might actually be an actor living inside that hooligan.
Mean Machine also acts as a pivotal moment in Jason Statham's career, as he was basically licking his wounds after three failed attempts at breaking into American blockbusters. So instead of continuing to beat a dying horse, Statham retreated back to a bit part for the producer who launched his career. The results are, while minor in regards to actual screen time, major in terms of instilling confidence back into the former sports model. Statham's entrance in Mean Machine is nothing less than a thing of pure beauty, as his tattooed psychotic soccer goalie is marched into a cage, shirtless, and allowed to do silent Kung Fu. All the while, the British equivalent of Morgan Freeman relays the legend of Monk, the murdering madman. Statham has very few lines in the movie, but every time he's featured the scenes pulsate with energy. It's the perfect example of a guy needing the help of his friends to remember who he is again, as he really cuts loose, mugging, throwing his body around and basically beating the shit out of everyone he comes across. Mean Machine is a damn good movie in its own right, but it also feels essential to Statham becoming a gigantic star, as it foretells possibly his most iconic role: Crank maniac Chev Chelios.
11. DEATH RACE  (d. & w. Paul WS Anderson)
Alias: Jensen Ames
Head-butts: 2 (Statham Owned)
Head-butt Victims: A Pair Nameless Aryan Prison Thugs
There’s a scene in Adaptation where Donald Kaufman describes his spec script, The 3, to his genius brother Charlie. It’s the moment when we as an audience realize who the fictional sibling is supposed to represent. He’s the flipside to everything Charlie wants to do as an artist; a commercially-minded entertainer who desires nothing more than to put asses in seats. Were Donald Kaufman a real human being, I can’t imagine his career being too unlike that of Paul WS Anderson, mastermind behind the never-ending Resident Evil series and savior to Vulgar Auteurists everywhere. Anderson is the type of filmmaker who plays a Beyoncé knockoff when a bus full of female prisoners are bizarrely unloaded onto a prison race track (where all of the drivers are waiting for a literal dash to the death to begin). One can’t help but imagine Anderson watching Paul Bartel’s broadly satirical 1975 original film and thinking, “yeah, this is funny and all…but I really just like when they run over the old people.” His take on Death Race is big, dumb, loud and loses almost all of the subtext of the Roger Corman midnight movie legend. But it’s also a trip and a half, chock full of enough vehicular mayhem, gore and “bodies in space” to blow a trash cinema enthusiast’s mind.
There’s an odd bent to Statham’s casting here. In Anderson’s version, the Death Race is still the most highly rated form of entertainment in the world, but it’s mostly because the economy has collapsed. We are now the unwashed masses, being kept docile by a globally broadcast trip into the Roman Coliseum. And Statham, of course, is our savior. He’s a man who was just laid off -- going home to his wife and baby only to have them brutally murdered in a frame job that will put him away for life. We sympathize with this blue-collar badass because we see our biggest fears in him. You slave away at your job, come home poor and then have it all stripped away in the blink of an eye. That’s the stuff of Average Joe nightmares. For Anderson, Statham becomes a vessel for his seemingly vapid piece of trash entertainment’s somewhat dark central theme. We must all become our own messiahs in this life, even when every single force in the universe seems to be working to keep us down. Death Race may be the work of a enslaved to a commercial mindset, but there he’s still got a few other existential musings on his mind beyond dollar bills.
10. THE MECHANIC  (d. Simon West, w. Richard Wenk & Lewis John Carlino)
Alias: Arthur Bishop
Head-butt Count: 1 (Awesome Turtleneck Count – 5)
Head-butt Victim: Cult Leader’s Bodyguard
Simon West’s remake of The Mechanic feels less akin to Michael Winner’s 1972 Charles Bronson/Jan-Michael Vincent joint and more like an action movie re-imagining of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Only here, Statham is Henry, an expert hitman who takes a young protégé (Ben Foster) under his wing and teaches him the tricks of the murder trade. And like Otis in John McNaughton’s horror classic, the protégé gets too much of a taste for the craft, wanting to satiate a desire his teacher has awakened in him. Simon West’s movie is an ugly, sub-Tony Scott affair that gets the job done; juxtapositions of stark brutality right next to big budget gloss that tricks you into thinking it’s just another by the numbers crime picture. Part of the credit here has to go to Richard Wenk, whose work on another “wet work professional” redux (The Equalizer with Denzel Washington) has similar tonal ties to slasher horror.
With Arthur Bishop, Statham is 100% stoic cool, wearing turtlenecks and leather jackets at all times, despite the fact that he lives in the Louisiana bayou. He also gets to call Donald Sutherland “dad” for the second time in his career, as the creator of Kiefer bounces back from being in one of the worst Statham movies to play a rather convincing father figure to Statham’s lone assassin character. West taps into the model in Statham with The Mechanic, as the Brit pouts and poses as if he’s in some kind of lost Michael Mann TV pilot, destined for cable cancellation. Supernaturally good at his job, we even get to see Statham somehow appear out of a swimming pool’s drain in order to strangle a drug dealer, and then slip out of the seemingly impenetrable compound without even the slightest hint of detection. Arthur Bishop will return next year in The Mechanic: Resurrection, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited to watch Statham dispatch fools without so much as changing the expression on his face.
9. THE TRANSPORTER  (d. Louis Leterrier & Corey Yuen, w. Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen)
Alias: Frank Martin
Total Head-butts: 1 (Strangely Enough)
Head-butt Victim: Nameless Thug Covered in Homoerotic Oil
Goddamn, The Transporter is a great action film. Breathlessly rushing from one set piece to the next, it barely has time for exposition. Cut from the same cloth as Walter Hill's The Driver and crossed with Hong Kong action cinema, Corey Yuen (who worked with Jet Li on his classic Legend films) choreographs the action beautifully while Louis Letterier keeps the frame steady, capturing it all in long, wide shots. Meanwhile, Frank Martin is made into a myth by Statham, who Byronically rattles off his "rules" every five minutes. There's not a whole lot original going on here, but ingenuity isn't the point. Letterier and Yuen recognize that they have an impressive specimen on their hands and do their damnedest to mold Statham into an action icon. Yes, the "cut scene" level melodrama is stilted as hell (with Qi Shu giving her all to a truly awful performance), but it's the practical stunt work and attention to iconography that stays with you LONG after the movie's brisk ninety minutes have concluded. The Transporter is an all-timer, delivering a new action hero for its generation.
Jason Statham is an absolute revelation in this movie. Doing the majority of his own stunts, he literally throws himself into every single set piece. Whether he's diving from an airplane onto the roof of a semi or Kung Fu fighting in an oil slick, there's a commitment to reckless abandon that is just infectious. Because before The Transporter, who would've thought that he could pull such a distinct brand kind of insanity off? This movie feels like Statham's insane pitch to the world, fueled by disappointment at being downgraded to second fiddle his entire career. The blunt desperation is palpable, but never bogs the picture down. Instead of coming off cloying or pleading, it's an actor’s all in bet that just works. Statham even manages to manufacture chemistry with Qi Shu, which must've been like completing an acting exercise with a mannequin. But that is what movie stars do. And even after trying to replicate the same something he tapped into with Martin's slick chic two more times, The Transporter still feels fresh and exciting ten plus years later. That's the best thing you can say about any genre busting film -- the imitators who followed in its wake don't do anything to dull the effect of the original.
8. HOMEFRONT  (d. Gary Fleder, w. Sylvester Stallone)
Alias: Phil Broker
Total Head-butts: 1
Head-butt Victims: Bayou Meth Henchman
Brimming with an earnestness that is undeniably infectious, Sylvester Stallone’s age old script (which was originally conceived as a Rambo installment but was later abandoned) finds DEA Agent Phil Broker (Statham) hiding out in the Deep South after the shooting death of a biker kingpin’s son. Unfortunately, his cover is blown when his daughter (Izabela Vidovic) gets tired of being picked on by a portly bully and employs a good dose of daddy’s self-defense techniques in order to subdue the tub of playground destruction. This raises the ire of local live wire Cassie Bodine (Kate Bosworth, lending new meaning to “heroin chic”) who in turn starts an old fashioned Down South grudge against the Brokers, employing the help of her meth-dealing brother Gator (James Franco, delivering his second pitch perfect white trash drug dealer after Alien in Spring Breakers). In essence, Homefront feels like a real throwback to the Walking Tall movies with Joe Don Baker and Bo Svenson; a good man surrounded by a bunch of nitwit local kingpins who want to do him harm. It certainly helps that the rest of the cast is rounded out by an extraordinary gaggle of character actors, including Frank Grillo, Winona Ryder and Pruitt Taylor Vince. But it’s Gary Fleder (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) who really brings every frame to vivid life. Pollen glimmers in the golden sunlight as it falls around Statham, always clad in denim and wearing a ball cap. Homefront drips with Americana, as it becomes a movie about the wars fought on our own turf; a deep-fried slice of action that feels like a regression to the types of character-driven pictures that are seldom made anymore.
While he’s completely out of place as an American DEA agent, Statham really owns his “movie star” qualities here. Phil Broker becomes a walking avatar for Americana, always clad in a jean jacket and striving to do the right thing. Hell, he even rides horses with his daughter at one point. But this is where the corniness of the movie actually works in its favor. Statham embraces the ludicrousness of it all, never flinching as he throws birthday parties and punches in equal measure. There’s nothing realistic about Homefront; it’s high melodrama with revolvers. If Douglas Sirk directed grimy B-Grade action movies, this is what I imagine they would look like, slathered in an almost ironic pastiche revolving around how America is viewed through the eyes of those who think it can do no wrong. Statham is beyond dreamy in Homefront, to the point that he actually becomes “The Dream.” It’s the ultimate capitalization on his image as the working class action hero -- a soaring American eagle who speaks with a British accent.
7. CRANK  (d. & w. Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor)
Alias: Chev Chelios
Total Head-butts: 2 (Statham Owned)
Head-butt Victims: Coke Den Thug; Mexican Gun Thug
A certifiable, coked-up coming out party, Crank is trash cinema at its absolute finest. Bereft of any kind of moral compass, the movie is the cinematic equivalent of a back alley freebase hand job. Neveldine & Taylor are operating on video game LSD logic, sweaty-palmed as they steer Chev Chelios from one side of Grand Theft LA to the other. Formally daring, the two over-caffeinated vulgar auteurs are willing to toss on roller blades and ride behind a speeding motorcycle if it means they can capture the pulsing rush of an upper fix. The commitment to pure vision is astounding, as Brian Berdan's cutting makes like Brian De Palma, naked on a beach in Ibiza in 1988 -- strung out and staring at the sun with bloodshot eyes. But our dope dealers are also a smart pair, as Neveldine & Taylor know that you can only sustain this high concept for so long before it wears out its welcome. At eighty-seven minutes, they become masters of economy, doling out information at a rapid-fire rate until there is no more tale to tell. By the finale we're exhausted, face down on the concrete next to Chelios and just praying to God the cut to black is coming next so we can shut our damn eyes.
Speaking of committed, holy shit is this THE MOMENT where Jason Statham becomes Jason FUCKING Statham. Acting almost like the rabbit at the Kentucky Derby, its Statham who sets the pace, daring the two filmmakers to keep up with him. He's full tilt in a way that the actor would only best once in career (you guessed it -- in the sequel). Participating in all of his own car and fight stunts, Statham brings a physicality to Chev Chelios that was missing even in The Transporter. The lack of choreographed Kung Fu makes it all feel raw an unrehearsed, even though the scenes essentially play out like live action Roadrunner cartoons. Best of all -- Statham never hams it up, but keeps it completely po-faced, resulting in a dead pan stare that makes you wonder if this screaming man should be locked up in an asylum. This is one of the GREAT B-Movie performances -- a recognition that the only way to truly distinguish yourself is to absolutely go for broke. Apart, neither Statham nor Neveldine & Taylor have ever been capable of harnessing this same lightning in a coke vial. But together, they're a completely unstoppable force that may just lead to the destruction of cinema as we know it.
6. BLITZ  (d. Elliott Lester, w. Nathan Parker)
Alias: Sergeant Brant
Total Head-butts: 0
There aren’t enough solid British cop movies. Sure, we can now point to Luther or Prime Suspect as shining examples of the genre crossing the Atlantic and providing amazing contemporary tales of lawmen and women patrolling the streets of foggy Londontown. But even those are slightly tarnished by the hollow, digital look of the BBC’s house production style. Blitz is their antithesis: a taut, hard-nosed police thriller that pairs an alcoholic Sergeant (Statham) with a gay Inspector (Paddy Considine) as they hunt a brutal serial killer (Aidan Gillen). Smoky, boozy and undeniably British, Blitz is one generic score away from being a legitimate masterwork of the genre, as though it may be playing with familiar archetypes (including a catty tabloid journalist played by David Morrissey), it brings a unique fish and chips flavor that makes it stand out amongst its peers. Gillen especially gets to shine, as he provides the English equivalent to Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio Killer from Dirty Harry. Simply put, Blitz is the real deal.
For Sergeant Brant, Statham strikes the perfect balance between brooding and clownish badass. He carries all of his weight in his shoulders, hunkered down in a sensible sweater and always ready to lash out and beat a man to a pulp. Gone completely is the perfect model posture we’ve become accustomed to over the years, replaced with an almost oafish lumbering, reeking of pints and cigarettes. This is Statham at his most unapologetically thuggish, as he plays catch and release with Gillen’s sneering, impish maniac. Considine plays the perfect, well-tailored yin to Statham’s brutish yang, allowing the star to really sink down low and find the reeking soul of this tarnished Sergeant. From a distance, this may not seem like much of a performance, but when placed up against some of his most iconic roles (Chev Chelios, Frank Martin), it becomes readily apparent why Brant is so special in the actor’s body of work. He’s no superhuman hero, just a human being – flaws and all.
5. SAFE  (d. & w. Boaz Yakin)
Alias: Luke Wright
Total Head-butts: 3
Head-butt Victims: 2 Chinese Gunmen, 1 Casino Thug
Boaz Yakin isn’t usually a particularly interesting or dynamic filmmaker, so color me surprised when Safe turned out not only to be an incredible bit of action filmmaking, but also one of the most visually inventive pictures in the entirety of the Statham canon. Safe is fairly standard in terms of plot, acting like a yakuza-tinged retread of Harold Becker’s Mercury Rising. A former elite cop (Statham) has to save a math genius little girl (Catherine Chan), all while being pursued by different shades of underworld thugs who want the safe combinations she keeps stashed away in her brain. But it’s all about the execution for Yakin, as he employs numerous moments of camera trickery to not only put us in the action, but to also convey a veritable fuckton of emotional information. A slow, wide zoom lets the pain of a character whose wife was just murdered soak into our skin. A darting POV from inside a car lets us experience a mafia shootout through the eyes of a child. Side scrolling dollies allow us to understand the geography of a neon lit casino floor before a bone crushing fight breaks out. Yakin crafts every frame with a student’s eye, lending fairly standard B-Movie fare a shot in the arm and resulting in not only a great “Jason Statham movie” but a flat out great action picture, period.
Best of all, this inspired take really seems to light a spark inside of Statham, as he comes alive in a beautifully emotive fashion. So much of the narrative revolves around the gangland breaking Statham’s character down in a very literal way that the actor is asked to shed a good amount of his tough guy exterior. To call Statham “soft” in Safe wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, as though the bruiser still gets to shoot and beat the shit out of a ton a folks, the best moments are the gracefully quiet ones where he’s asked to give a homeless man his tennis shoes or promise a little girl that he’ll protect her until his dying day. There’s almost a “Christian” bent to the movie; a “turn the other cheek” mantra that emphasizes charity and goodwill in the face of human hardship, and Statham completely embraces the spiritual side of the tale Yakin is telling. It’s not often that we get to see a superstar both completely inhabit a genre archetype they’ve come to dominate while simultaneously subverting its violent, badass core, but Statham does just that in Safe.
4. THE BANK JOB  (d. Roger Donaldson, w. Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais)
Alias: Terry Leather
Total Head-butts: 2
Head-butt Victims: A Nameless Corrupt Cop (A Statham Dome Double Tap!)
It’s somewhat hard to believe that The Bank Job was made in 2008. Truthfully, it wouldn’t feel out of place coming from the 70s British film industry that churned out hard-nosed crime pictures like Douglas Hicox’s Sitting Target. Brimming with paranoia and a distrust of government, this is a movie about a gang of proper crooks, all looking to take down a one big score in order to set themselves up for the rest of their lives. But hawking over it all is a group of shady operatives, acting as the puppeteers controlling Terry Leather (Statham) and his crew of small time hoods. And while there is definitely some emphasis on the tools of the trade (including a blowtorch that would give Frank Hohimer wood), this is a pressure cooker character piece, each bit of ratcheted tension causing the audience to squirm as the noose tightens around these robbers’ necks. Director Roger Donaldson captures the period with an attention to smooth costuming that never once becomes distracting, utilizing skewed angles to maintain a semblance of unbalance. A throwback in the truest sense, The Bank Job is effortlessly cool because it focuses on the most essential element of narrative filmmaking: ensuring a good story is told well.
Also central to the movie’s success is Statham, and Donaldson really needs to be given a bit of merit for finally tapping into the inner character actor beneath those impeccably tailored turtlenecks. Statham strikes an incredible balance between creating another everyman (we first meet him in a garage where he’s selling “used” cars, after all) while never letting us forget that he’s so much more badass than we’ll ever be. Rocking a name that could possibly be the greatest moniker ever concocted by the human brain (“Terry Leather” just rolls off the tongue), Statham is a blue collar Bond, organizing the scheme of a lifetime and acting as a father figure for those working under his wing. All the while, he and Saffron Burrows are dancing around one another, teasing the universe with the possibility of romance. Irrefutably smooth, Statham carries The Bank Job effortlessly.
3. TRANSPORTER 2  (d. Louis Leterrier, w. Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen)
Alias: Frank Martin
Total Head-butts: 2 (Both Statham Owned)
Head-butt Victims: Two Ethnically Ambiguous Miami Henchmen
What a glorious, big, dumb gay cartoon of a movie. Where The Transporter flirted with ludicrousness in its back forty minutes, the second sequel (following Michael Mann's Collateral in-joke for action fans) completely eschews any kind of real world plausibility. Frank Martin has moved from France to Miami Beach and traded in his jet black BMW for a jet black Audi. As an added bonus, the dealer threw in a whitewashed version of the family from Man on Fire. Martin is now the chauffeur for a young boy (Hunter Clary) who is constantly threatened (as all rich, privileged children are in these movies) by the enemies of his parents. Thankfully, he has Frank Martin to fight off all incoming danger, as he’s the kind of man who can kill with a fire hose all while balancing on one leg and spinning around in circles. Only now Frank’s got a grease-soaked supermodel dominatrix who looks like P!nk (Kate Nauta), wielding dual Uzis and firing rockets at him and the boy with reckless abandon. Transporter 2 ramps up the goofiness to one hundred, and Statham is game for it all, riding missiles while rejecting the advances of the kid’s super hot mom (Amber Valletta). It’s an absolute hoot.
Statham is the coolest monk you’ve ever seen in Transporter 2. He's a helluva driver. He knows Kung Fu. He insouciantly ducks bullets like Keanu. He can launch a jet ski onto the highway and live to tell about it before jumping from a Miami high-rise onto a moving taxicab's roof. The whole time, his suit doesn’t sustain one single wrinkle. When he finds a bomb stuck to the undercarriage of his bulletproof Audi, he has the expertise and ability to flip his moving car and cleanly knock the explosive off with a local crane hook. To be frank, it would all feel like parody if Statham wasn’t so in tune with the gonzo vibe Letterier perfects. "Flight's been canceled," a bad guy quips at him at one point, to which Statham deadpans “I'm sorry to tell you that you've been canceled.” Hell yes, Jason Statham, keep on grooving until the end of time (or until Olivier Megaton fucks your shit up).
2. CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE  (d. Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor)
Alias: Chev Chelios
Total Head-butts: 1
Head-butt Victim: Nameless Warehouse Thug
Crank: High Voltage is something of a wonder; a modern exploitation film that isn’t afraid to wear its crass heart on its sleeve. Unapologetically offensive in nearly every way (racism, sexism, homophobia) it barrels toward worthlessness with a glee few films have the balls to exude. Neveldine & Taylor are shameless hucksters, utilizing black women as props and hurling horse cocks at the crowd, all in an effort to have you clutching at your pearls. High Voltage is an unnecessarily mean movie, but it’s never truly mean spirited. It wallows in juvenilia and quite literally throws a middle finger at good taste, finding anyone who walked out (or didn’t for that matter) in contempt of court. “How could you pay for this trash?” it asks you, incredibly self-aware of its own abrasiveness. This reckless attitude is what gives the movie its roguish charm, as it’s the closest an American studio has ever come to replicating the batshit of Takashi Miike wholesale. This is punk rock via a Canon HF10, ready to kick your door in, do all your drugs and steal the love of your life. Brace yourself.
In a weird way, Statham is almost like a Satanic Jerry Lewis in High Voltage, throwing himself into every gag and fully embracing the ludicrousness around him. Just as Lewis became part of his films’ fabric, Statham feels at home in the sun-scorched Hellscape that is LA, full of cartoonish gangs of complete lunatics. He’s plugged into the energy of his surroundings, navigating the terrain while Neveldine & Taylor struggle to keep up, whipping the camera around in such a haphazard way that it truly feels like a marvel the movie’s dual editors (Mark Jacubowicz and Fernando Villena) were able to cut anything remotely coherent together. Because Statham feels so at peace with Chelios and this bananas world the directors have created, High Voltage almost takes on a Mondo documentary feel; as if we were just following a maniac around during his last ditch effort to keep The Dream alive. Crank: High Voltage is raw and immediate cinema, gonzo in both its intentions and execution. But if it weren’t for its star finding a way to become one with the movie’s bonkers energy, the movie wouldn’t work at all. This is the stuff of legend, and the moment Jason Statham proved unequivocally that he’s one of the greatest, most committed entertainers working today.
1. REDEMPTION  (d. & w. Steven Knight)
Total Head-butts: 2
Head-butt Victims: Homeless Mugger, Chinese Gun Thug
Steven Knight is a writer obsessed with moral obligation. From Dirty Pretty Things’ struggling London immigrants, to Eastern Promises’ meditation on an undercover cop’s need to stay in character until his mission is complete, to the tortured philandering concrete pourer in Locke, Knight sketches complex parables about the soulful struggles of men and women. To that end, Redemption (a/k/a Hummingbird in the UK) may actually be his very best work; a Hong Kong cinema-influenced, neon-drenched dive into the London underbelly, in which a former Special Forces commando (Statham) struggles to atone for the soldiers he couldn’t save in combat. Every frame of Knight’s picture is painted with melancholic regret, as the ghosts of the past haunt our man of brutal violence, sometimes in the form of floating iridescent hummingbirds. Redemption is often a gorgeous movie. The nighttime cityscapes (photographed by Oscar winner Chris Menges) become a maze through which the soldier navigates, collecting debts for the Chinese mob and sprinkling his ill-gotten gains amongst the street people he once called brothers and sisters during his earliest days home from the Afghan War. All the while, he connects with a kind-hearted nun (Agata Buzek) who is dealing with her own set of demons. When paired with Boaz Yakin’s Safe, Redemption acts as the second half to the Statham “Christian Duology”, exploring themes of guilt, regret, charity and human strength in the face of everyday struggle. But beyond working as a fitting piece to the whole of Statham’s filmography, it separates itself by utilizing the action movie template as a mere jumping off point for genuine exploration of the human soul. Johnnie To would be proud.
Steven Knight taps into a side of Jason Statham that no other director has been able to penetrate. Statham has played vulnerable before (see: Safe), but never has he been so wounded, his soul laid bare for the rest of the world to see. His performance here really is the antithesis to the Crank pictures, as Statham seems to dive inward, pushing the pain further into his belly as he forces himself to commit terrible deeds in the dead of night, desperately spreading the wealth he’s acquired in order to somehow put a band aid over the gashes in his psyche. But the real wonders of his performance come in the scenes he shares with Buzek, who constantly keeps the brutish angel at arm’s length. There’s a dizzying, despondent romanticism as they share dinner outside of a meat plant or when she reveals her inner anguish to him in a dampened London alleyway. Like the titular fluttering birds, they dance around one another, hovering just above the surface of their sorrow in an attempt to ascend above what drags them down toward the London underworld. Statham is magnificent in these moments, and one can’t help but yearn for him to return to similar territory, as once he sheds his action star armor, there’s a wondrous actor just waiting to be challenged.