ADVENTURES IN STREAMING
EACH ISSUE, OUR INTREPID WRITER FOLLOWS NETFLIX’S COMPUTER-CALIBRATED RECOMMENDATIONS, GOING WHEREVER THE TRAIL LEADS
MAYBE IT’S DOWN TO the RADA Mafia, but the UK rarely produces international action stars. Which makes Jason Statham such a gloriously unlikely phenomenon — as British as an Olympic Breakfast, hard as a concrete nail and a DIY stunt don, his rise to the A-list isn’t celebrated nearly enough. There are no fewer than 13 of his movies on Netflix, from Wild Card to The Expendables. God only knows what we’ll get. Let the Stath-roulette begin... Set in sweltering Louisiana, brutish, scowling thriller
The Mechanic is archetypal Statham — a Brit-abroad hitman with porn-star sunglasses, bulletproof stubble and an über-stath name, Arthur Bishop. Antiheroes are a Statham speciality, but nihilistic maniac Bishop is extreme even by his standards. First, he assassinates his own mentor. Then he unwisely adopts his mentor’s son (Ben Foster) and shapes him into a hitman. Opening with a suicidal hurl off a 100-foot bridge, the stunts are gobsmacking in a merely solid thriller that, nonetheless, has its moments. The sequence where they take down a ketamine-junkie televangelist in a skyscraper fortress is breathlessly staged by Simon West, although why they’re camouflaged in S.w.a.t.-team black during the daytime qualifies as a total stealth fail. Sequel Mechanic: Resurrection vrooms into cinemas later this year...
Cinematic cattle-prod Crank: High Voltage sees the return of Statham’s unkillable cockney hitman, Chev Chelios. This time, his heart’s been nicked by LA triads. Cue a frantic organ-chase, as Chelios tasers his electric ticker to stay alive. Surreal highlight: mutating into a roaring Stathzilla for a power-station scrap. Mark Neveldine/brian Taylor’s relentless ADHD style frazzles like a grotesque action-cartoon, as does Statham — the scowl loosens into a mad-eyed gurn. Check out the dog-collar scene — his performance is literally barking.
Arguably his signature role, Transporter 3 is Statham’s last stab at kung-fu courier Frank Martin. Much like Crank, there’s a time-bomb gimmick in the form of an exploding bracelet: stray too far from his Audi A8 and Frank goes boom, as does his “package”, Natalya Rudakova. I’ve got a lot of time for the Transporter series — the closest the West has ever got to cloning Jackie Chan — but 50 minutes into part three, there’s plenty of action but still no sign of a story. Probably for the best, given that the eventually revealed plot hinges on the EU’S policy on industrial pollutants. If you think Michael Bay “fucks the frame”, Olivier Megaton’s cuts suggest a Viagra overdose in the edit room — great for rabid pacing, less so for The Stath’s intricate fight choreography, here reduced to a blur of windmilling limbs. Ghosts Of Mars is a sloppy John Carpenter movie, but from a Statham perspective it’s fascinating. This was his first Hollywood appearance, made when he still had fluffy-duckling hair. It’s 2176AD, and ancient demonic dust has possessed a Martian mining colony. Enter Statham as space-copper Jericho Butler, armed with a gun the size of a leg. “What the fack is going on?” he yells as the invaders lay siege. Well, it’s a good facking question. Tumbling into a vortex of clumsy flashbacks, Carpenter loses his grip on the plot, but, fatally, the action too: the Mad Maxy Martians lope around as if someone’s set the fire alarm off at a Monsters Of Rock festival. Still, Statham’s easily the best thing in it. And would have been even better if he’d been allowed to play Snake Plissken-alike Desolation Williams, as originally planned — the role went to waddling badass Ice Cube. I’m keeping my eyes crossed for an explosive finale, but no, Netflix is in a proper mood. We end with a clunk: Uwe Boll’s unholy Dungeon Siege spin-off, In The Name Of The King . Boll’s adaptation of the RPG is truly Tolkien the piss — a kind of ‘Lord Of The Wrongs’, complete with Orc-a-like army that look like angry cowpats. Introduced digging up a swede, Statham plays a farmer called, er, Farmer. Being a farmer, he is, of course, lethally proficient with a boomerang. Yes. Despite it resembling a cheesy quest that fell out of a video-van circa 1983, Boll doesn’t even have the decency to camp it up: instead, we’re served epically boring fantasy porridge with lumps of regional panto (hello, Ray Liotta’s Liberace wizard). Happily, The Stath remains unbroken: even in dross, he gives his stubbly all. Maybe he can deploy the swordfighting skills on another movie. Or on Uwe Boll.