Why Ja­son Statham is Bri­tain’s great­est movie star

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FILM -

Why is Ja­son Statham pretty much un­beat­able at what he does? Let’s start with the hair.

The 49-year-old’s stub­bled pate is vi­tal to his ap­peal, so fixed an as­pect of his now-un­sink­able brand that a Stath char­ac­ter ac­ces­sorises at his peril. There are one or two films in which a long, strag­gly wig is ini­tially sported — Hum­ming­bird (2013) and Home­front (2013), for in­stance.

If th­ese ve­hi­cles un­der­stand their star in the slight­est, they must abide by the eter­nal law of Statham’s Wig, which is an ex­act in­verse of Chekhov’s Gun. Af­ter the first act, it must van­ish and never be seen again, ide­ally in a slow-mo­tion clip­per mon­tage to show him clean­ing up his act.

In Fast & Fu­ri­ous 8, Statham com­prises 1/3 of ac­tion cin­ema’s baldestever tri­umvi­rate. Watch­ing him square off with Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel is like paus­ing a snooker match two shots shy of a 147 break. If that weren’t enough, a baby is added to the mix, which gen­uinely looks like it’s beat­ing their sum of skull cov­er­age. Statham and baby — it’s Vin Diesel’s in­fant, but you can hardly ex­pect it to tell the dif­fer­ence — dance their way through ex­plo­sions in the mid-air cli­max, and steal the film to­gether with such comic grace they de­serve a whole spin-off unto them­selves, per­haps with “Farts” in the ti­tle.

Statham’s re­cruit­ment into the hotrod saga may be giv­ing him eas­ily his big­gest box of­fice pay­days, but he’s racked up a good cou­ple of dozen prof­itable films in his time — gen­er­ally by keep­ing the over­heads low and the for­mula ba­sic. He’s dis­ci­plined, knows his brand, and has a sim­mer­ing, low-key star power which makes it easy to un­der­rate him: ex­ports from Sy­den­ham, or in­deed Great Bri­tain, have rarely made it so big.

One more thing on the hair. There are films that broke the law, and th­ese are here­sies — among Statham’s worst ever. Guy Ritchie’s Re­volver (2005) has many, many ideas above its lu­di­crous sta­tion, but the lank, black hair­piece atop its lead­ing man is some­how an in­stant totem of its pre­ten­tious­ness. It’s just wrong.

Ab­so­lutely no one, mean­while, has seen Statham’s con­tri­bu­tion to the low-bud­get US indie Lon­don (also 2005 — not a good year), but a Google Im­age check is pos­si­ble on the Wil­lis-in-Sixth-Sense-toupee­man­quée in­volved, and it ex­plains more or less ev­ery­thing.

Statham knows by now that his star­dom de­pends on keep­ing cer­tain things ro­bust and sim­ple. To this end, his film ti­tles con­tain as few words as pos­si­ble, ide­ally just the one. (He ac­tu­ally made one called The One. It’s aw­ful.) He’s down with def­i­nite pro­nouns. But you’ ll never catch him in An Any­thing or Be­ing Any­thing or any of that non­sense. He favours jobs: The Trans­porter (2002). The Me­chanic (2011). The Bank Job (2008). Spy (2015). His men of ac­tion have sell­able skills, and ad­ver­tise them with the bare min­i­mum of fuss or ver­biage. Rather like the man him­self.

Statham doesn’t much like do­ing in­ter­views, but once in a while a film needs his help — the un­der­seen Hum­ming­bird was one such, neo- gumshoe drama Parker (2013) an­other. Dur­ing th­ese brief pro­mo­tional in­ter­ludes, he comes out and ex­plains him­self, re­veal­ing a ca­reer plan guided, as much as any­thing, by com­mon sense. “You can’t have a sushi restau­rant and then put cheese on toast on the menu,” he told the Guardian.

In his own films, the re­verse is doubt­less true, but he meant this to ex­cuse his ab­sence from work by rar­efied au­teurs. Take Todd Haynes: you wouldn’t catch Statham dead in a film called Carol, Vel­vet Gold­mine, or I’m Not There. He is al­ways very much There. (His 2012 Safe is not a re­make.)

Since his first dreams of be­ing a stunt man, Statham has knuck­led down to the phys­i­cal side of his job with un­com­plain­ing graft, and loves learn­ing new tricks. He dropped his body fat to an amaz­ing 6% to get fit for Death Race (2008). Be­fore he was an ac­tor, he reached a peak, trivia fans, as the world’s 12th best diver, TheFa­te­oftheFu­ri­ous. only to have his Olympics hopes dashed in the early 1990s.

And there re­mains a bucket list, as he told Men’s Fit­ness. “There’s one thing that I’ve never tried to do and that’s fly one of those wing [suits] [ ...] off a cliff and do that prox­im­ity fly­ing where they take a layer of skin off their chin by fly­ing close to the rocks.” While some of us dust off An­thony Trol­lope, he’ ll get on with this.

What keeps Statham bank­able is a rig­or­ous ap­proach to his ac­tion hero­ics which never gets too self-se­ri­ous, but also doesn’t flag up its self-mockery. He’s re­li­ably poker-faced. Com­pared with his Fast 8 co-star Johnson, who’s in dan­ger of get­ting too out­sized in ev­ery way — over­do­ing the mus­cles, mug­ging to cam­era, prac­ti­cally croon­ing to his fan-base mid-film — Statham keeps his cool. Their ver­bal spats have an amus­ingly ho­mo­erotic edge, but Johnson is the one play­ing up to it all, strain­ing to be de­clared a camp icon.

If you asked Statham what a camp icon was, he’d sketch you a tent, with a slight smile. Flam­boy­ance isn’t his bread and but­ter, what­ever hap­pened in the pre-fame days. If you showed him the mu­sic video for Era­sure’s Run to the Sun (1994), say, which fea­tures him gy­rat­ing in sil­ver body paint on top of the World Clock in Ber­lin’s Alexan­der­platz, or the even more spec­tac­u­lar sight of him heav­ily oiled, in leop­ard-print pants, ca­vort­ing all over The Shamen’s go­daw­ful Comin’ On (1993) promo, he’d just fix you one of his looks.

Eas­ily the most de­light­ful thing in the Beau­ti­ful South’s cheesy video for Dream a Lit­tle Dream, on the French Kiss (1995) sound­track, is Statham. It’s full of couples canoodling in a cin­ema with French Kiss show­ing, and there, for a frac­tion of a sec­ond, watch­ing French Kiss on a date at 1:21, is Statham.

Be­cause of his patented sto­icism, barely the slight­est shift was re­quired for Statham to en­ter “funny” mode in Spy. (He’s just as funny in Fast & Fu­ri­ous 8.) Every­one re­sponded to that turn as an act of joy­ful self-par­ody, but you could prob­a­bly find out-takes from all his other per­for­mances with the same de­gree of wink and hubris — there’s hardly a flicker of dif­fer­ence be­tween “se­ri­ous” Statham and the spoofy kind.

Cer­tainly Crank (2006), his most brazen ex­ploita­tion-y gam­ble and ri­otous cult suc­cess, let him whack tongue vi­o­lently into cheek. But he has a per­fect in­stinct for not go­ing over­board, even when his films do.

Statham spent some for­ma­tive years as a fly-pitcher, hawk­ing knock-off watches on Lon­don’s street cor­ners, much as his dad had done. In­ter­view­ers love a link be­tween this vo­ca­tion and do­ing what he now does: sell­ing the right prod­uct to the right con­sumer, even if it’s fallen off the back of a van, and get­ting de­cent money for his trou­bles.

When Guy Ritchie first spot­ted him, mod­el­ling for French Con­nec­tion, it was the di­rec­tor’s lucky day more than Statham’s. He got only £5,000 for de­but­ing in Lock, Stock (1998), upped to £15,000 for Snatch (2000). But he was so clearly the shrewd, charis­matic cen­tre of those films that pro­duc­ers flocked to him.

Within two years one of them was Luc Besson, and he had the lead ac­tion role — in the nifty, la­conic, knows-ex­actly-what-it’s-do­ing The Trans­porter — which has given him a tem­plate ever since. Fast driv­ing, loud killing, proper stunts, and not too much dia­logue. Or at least off­load it on some other poor slag.

Statham has feisty views on stunt work, ac­tu­ally, and has said in the past he thinks an Oscar cat­e­gory should ex­ist for it, to ap­plaud some of the hard­est-work­ing guys in the busi­ness. He has also slammed the over-re­liance on CGI in the Marvel uni­verse, caus­ing us to won­der if he’s ac­tu­ally made it through all three Ex­pend­ables films.

Where pos­si­ble, he likes to do it all him­self: that’s re­ally him hang­ing out of a he­li­copter 2,000 feet above L.A., at the end of Crank. And that’s re­ally him, um, at­tack­ing Kim Basinger’s neck with a belt in Cel­lu­lar (2004), with­out giv­ing her prior no­tice, be­cause she said she wasn’t feel­ing scared enough. A warn­ing to us all.

Per­haps it’s the rel­a­tive unim­por­tance of qual­ity con­trol that has given the Statham ca­reer such legs. He’s un­der no il­lu­sions about the fluc­tu­at­ing en­ter­tain­ment value of his films — while too gen­tle­manly to dis­par­age par­tic­u­lar scripts, he has his favourites, and knows where the base­line is.

He’s loyal to Ritchie about their first two, knows Crank is a hoot, is rather par­tial to The Bank Job. (For me, The Me­chanic, 2011’s Blitz, Hum­ming­bird and Home­front all have some grit to match their pulp, and Death Race, though en­tirely lu­di­crous, is one of Paul W.S. An­der­son’s bet­ter knock-offs.)

Never as­sume, ei­ther, that he’s merely scrap­ing by with the mort­gage pay­ments. Thanks to a lot of smart in­vest­ments and resid­u­als, he has a net worth of at least $40 mil­lion. He did not launch his own male fra­grance range, as Den of Geek re­ported once on April 1st, but did get en­gaged to Rosie Hunt­ing­tonWhite­ley last year. Amid all their en­tre­pre­neur­ial jet-set­ting, what do they get up to for leisure? “We get drunk and float around the swim­ming pool,” he told Esquire.

There is al­most no Statham pen­sée that is not 200-proof Statham. “If the movie shoots in Fe­bru­ary, you’ve got a lot of trou­ble,” he de­clares, mind­ful of sea­sonal bloat. “I f *****g love cars” is a good one. “Writ­ing is not a skill I pos­sess, un­for­tu­nately,” he has also said, in typ­i­cally self-dep­re­cat­ing fash­ion.

But — let’s see. He can high-dive, kick­box, do what­ever the verb is for jiu-jitsu, be un­der­stat­edly sexy, drive at in­sanely dan­ger­ous speeds, act well, play foot­ball well, dance in his pants like a to­tal champ as long as you don’t tell any­one, and gen­uinely jump onto school buses from jet­skis, if you in­sist. It’s quite some port­fo­lio. And no one, least of all him, is get­ting tired of it yet.

UNI­VER­SAL PIC­TURES VIA AP

This im­age re­leased by Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures shows Ja­son Statham in

ED­UARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS

Ac­tor Ja­son Statham at­tends New York pre­miere at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall in New York.

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