What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
You. Not. Expendable. Will revisit some of the classic (and not so classic) films starring the various and sundry cast members of The Expendables 2 in order to open up a conversation about action cinema in general and to prepare us all for the carnage that Expendables 2 will (hopefully) reap upon us all.
As we approach the August 17th theatrical release date of The Expendables 2, You. Not. Expendable will highlight different cast members, singling out a few of their feature film endeavors. The jury is still out on whether you, too, will want to revisit each of these films.
I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Jason Statham, but I don’t quite think his film output has achieved the level of greatness that most of his EXPENDABLES co-stars have achieved. In many ways, Statham’s Christmas is the new kid on the block in the EXPENDABLES films. He’s Stallone’s right hand man in this crew, and therefore integral to THE EXPENDABLES franchise. But revisiting his filmography was a little more challenging for me to break down.
Basically, with the past You. Not. Expendable. columns, I’ve tried to dig up some diamonds in the rough and spend time talking about underseen action gems from some of our titans of action. But when it comes to Statham, there were a few kinks in my plan. For one thing, he has fewer starring roles to choose from than many of his co-stars. And for another, much of his leading man work has taken place in the last decade. So lots of his stuff was either ensemble work where he is not the star, or was so new that it wasn’t really worth revisiting! So I’ve basically taken the totally opposite track here and selected some of Statham’s biggest roles to revisit. His franchises, and his big screen debut.
- A Disgrace To Criminals Everywhere
- They lost half a million at cards but they've still got a few tricks up their sleeve
Guy Ritchie was pretty much the man upon the releases of LOCK, STOCK and SNATCH. And the person in front of the lens who benefitted most from the utter cool that those films wrought upon us was Jason Statham. Sure, Ritchie went on to a couple of missteps such as SWEPT AWAY and REVOLVER (dragging Statham down with him on that one.) But I still love Ritchie’s brand of energy and feel like his SHERLOCK HOLMES franchise is good fun. And I’d still love to see an unending series of London crime films from him. I might be one of the biggest fans I know of his most recent effort on that front, ROCKNROLLA. But I digress, many of the talents involved in LOCK, STOCK went on to have successful careers as character actors, and producers and directors. But I think Jason Statham has had the best ride of them all.
Here in LOCK, STOCK, Statham plays Bacon. A main character, to be sure, but just one part of an alarmingly large ensemble. Bacon is the laid back, reasonable voice amongst his group of four friends who get in way over their heads in a huge poker game in the crime-ridden streets of London. Bacon is up for a good robbery, or a pull off of a decent jay. But he’s not one to over react.
LOCK, STOCK was a bit of a revelation upon its release in 1998. Ritchie’s film was undeniably cool, and felt ahead of its time. LOCK, STOCK and SNATCH showed us what the new cinematic cool really could be. You’ve got a marvelously seedy London filled with colorful and violent gangsters. But you’ve also got a deadpan sense of humor running through the whole affair. LOCK, STOCK could be considered a crime comedy on one level. But then throw in (on top of the authenticity and the humor) an incredibly twisty and winding and interconnected story that sort of blows your mind, and you’ve got one hell of a debut feature. More than that, you’ve got almost an entirely new genre on your hands.
Since LOCK, STOCK, the Guy Ritchie formula/genre has come to feel more familiar. Other filmmakers have aped him. And, It is possible that Ritchie has a somewhat limited bag of tricks, but what an entertaining and clever bag of tricks it is. As I mentioned above, I think I’d happily continue to revisit the criminal underbelly of London through the eyes of Guy Ritchie forever as long as the output is more LOCK, STOCK and less REVOLVER.
Statham’s role as the balanced, cool, and calm Bacon actually makes him somewhat of a straight man to some of the crazier characters here. Maybe that calm coolness allows him to be somewhat upstaged by some of the zanier elements at play in LOCK, STOCK, but maybe it also planted the seeds for his future as a badass action hero. But at the time of this film’s release, no one could have predicted Statham’s rise into the pantheon of action heroes.
If I even try to delve any deeper into the plot of LOCK, STOCK, it’ll just muddle things up. The interwoven story is a key element to the fun of this movie. But I do want to mention one element that I picked up upon this revisit that was above my head in previous viewings. Probably one of the funniest elements of LOCK, STOCK is watching our four bumbling heroes go about their business and repeatedly stumble upon scenes of massacre. Over and over again, the actions of our heroes lead to horrifically violent conclusions that they themselves had next to nothing to do with. And each time they stumble across scenes of devastation, Ritchie employs a theme from Ennio Morricone’s sountrack to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. That has come to be my favorite Western of all time and I love the fact that Ritchie uses that theme here to punctuate the humor in all of the killing.
If you want to pick up LOCK, STOCK for yourself, you can support this column by buying the Blu-ray over at Amazon. This particular Blu also includes a DVD and digital copy. I watched the film on my old DVD and found the early digital video look to be surprisingly dated and problematic. The image quality looks so noisy that I found it distracting, but fortunately the film itself rises above this issue. I wonder how the Blu-ray looks?
- Rules Are Made To Be Broken
I was in college when THE TRANSPORTER came out and the trailer for the movie blew me away. This was still a time when the Luc Besson brand carried a ton of weight for me. (Not that it doesn’t still, but he’s hit or miss at best.) So to see a bulked up, kung-fu’d out Jason Statham kicking in the front doors of a few bad guys was an exciting prospect.
My friends and I caught the movie in theaters and spent a ton of time afterwards laughing and joking at the silliness of the whole thing. While being entertained, I ultimately found myself (at that time) disappointed with the movie. I hadn’t expected to find myself laughing and joking about the film; I had expected a more hardcore action feel. As a matter of fact, revisiting the movie for this column might have only been my second viewing of THE TRANSPORTER.
But on the second spin, I get it! How could I ever have missed it? I’ve thought long and hard about why my take on THE TRANSPORTER was so off target, and I’ve pinpointed Clive Owen’s series of BMW’s short films called THE HIRE. Have you all seen any of those shorts? Owen plays a nameless driver (always in a BMW) who goes on a series of adventures, all being directed by various insanely prestigious directors such as Ritchie himself, as well as John Woo, Joe Carnahan, John Frankenheimer, and more. They were short films funded by BMW, and they are probably the coolest commercials of all time. Owen’s nameless driver is cool, collected, and stoic. These shorts were contemporaries of THE TRANSPORTER and I guess I had Owen’s stoicism in mind going in to see Statham’s film. I’d also put a little blame on RONIN, as well. RONIN features a tense, cool, classical crime structure and amazing European car chases. THE TRANSPORTER cannot even remotely be described as stoic or restrained! And that’s okay.
Statham’s Frank Martin has a few rules when he does his transporting. And much like Ryan Gosling’s Driver in DRIVE, those rules are simply made to be broken. Consequences will follow. But where DRIVE takes us down dark roads of fallout, THE TRANSPORTER brings us greased up fight sequences and over the top bad guys. If you know walking in to THE TRANSPORTER that you are getting an insane, Hong Kong-style kung fu movie complete with show stopping set pieces such as the aforementioned grease fight, you’ll have a blast.
As a matter of fact, let’s talk about the oil slick fight a little bit Statham is being pursued by a bunch of thugs and has an awesome fight in a bus station of some kind. Soon he finds himself surrounded by all manner of bad guys and in an instinctual moment of genius, he spills oil all over himself. Lots of break dance-styled martial arts ensue, with tons of slipping and sliding and kicking. If you aren’t ready for a scene this left field, it might throw you for a loop. But as an action set piece, it is the kind of insane genius that makes THE TRANSPORTER Statham’s number one franchise.
In a staggeringly logical development, Frank Martin notices a bike conveniently sitting in the bus terminal, and breaks off its foot pedals. In a flash, our Transporter is able to stand and kick while his opponents are still slipping and sliding. And Statham spin kicks himself into action movie legend. When I first saw the movie I didn’t get the genius of the choreography. I just got a laugh at the homoeroticism of the oiled up dudes wrestling. But come to think of it, the scene works on ALL of those levels!
Finding myself falling in love with THE TRANSPORTER here in 2012 wasn’t what I expected when I revisited the movie. Now I’ll have to track down and see the full trilogy. I’ve heard mixed things. But my eyes are opened to the glorious excess of THE TRANSPORTER!
A couple of last tidbits. I guess the first time around, the cop who is on to Statham’s character kind of bothered me. He knows Frank is a criminal, but he has this weird “only in the movies” respect for Frank. At one point the detective totally breaks every rule in the book and essentially allows Frank free reign to go be the good guy and save the day. Why did this bother me before? I’m not sure, because it sure as hell feels fun now! I love the cop/criminal dynamic here and don’t give a crap if it would only happen in the movies. Lastly, it cracks me up that the plot allows this specialized criminal a chance to not only save the day, but save a truck full of modern day slaves. Nothing turns a criminal into a hero faster than letting him save a truck full of slaves!
You can pick up THE TRANSPORTER on Blu-ray right here. It doesn’t look like there is a nice, easy, blu-ray boxed set of the full TRANSPORTER trilogy just yet, which is a little bit sad, I’d say. Where’s the feature-loaded boxed set?!
- There are a thousand ways to raise your adrenaline. Today, Chev Chelios will need every single one.
- You Stop You Die.
Weirdly enough, my coverage of CRANK is going to sound a little similar to my coverage of THE TRANSPORTER. Once again, I found myself revisiting a film I didn’t like on first viewing, and enjoying it significantly more on round two. This happens a lot with me and I don’t really mind that about myself. Films are made to be watched and rewatched and re-assessed through the lenses of time, cultural shifts, and deeper education. I’ve found that I love all film more and more the deeper I delve into it, and that helps me appreciate things that I once missed or wasn’t prepared for. I definitely wasn’t prepared for CRANK when I first took it in. And while I really appreciate it and enjoy it today, I still didn’t fall quite as “in love” with the movie as I did with THE TRANPORTER.
CRANK introduces us to LA hitman Chev Chelios as he is being murdered. In a hyper-energized shooting style, we enter inside Chelios’ brain as he wakes up inebriated, stumbles into his living room, finds a DVD, and hits play. Lead Villain #1 explains that he has injected Chelios with a drug that will stop his heart within mere hours. Chelios is a walking dead man. But he’s not dead yet.
What follows is one of the most insane, kinetic, excessive thrill rides ever greenlit by a studio. Chelios causes enormous amounts of property destruction and murder on his quest to kill the man who has killed him. But don’t expect any drama, weight, or grit. CRANK is all about excess and one-upping itself with crazier and crazier set pieces. Statham will do anything to keep his heart pumping, and that includes public sex, electric shock paddles, copious drug use, and fast cars driven through indoor malls.
I think a key element that I missed when first being distracted by the movie’s insanity is the bravery of the lead performance. Jason Statham took a pretty huge risk to play this largely irredeemable dude. Chelios seems like a really bad guy in the scheme of things, but when this bad guy is put into a situation where he knows he’s about to die, he will stop at absolutely nothing to get revenge. That gleeful abandonment of all morality kind of makes Chev Chelios an awesome protagonist.
The mere fact that a sequel to CRANK exists astounds me. The entire premise of the first movie is that Chelios is a dead man from frame one. And the conclusion feels about as definite as the end of ALIEN 3. But Hollywood has a way! And with my newfound appreciation for the chaos that is CRANK, I’ve committed to someday actually check out the sequel, which by all accounts is turned up to an even higher 11 than the first film.
Co-directors Neveldine/Taylor have really never quite recaptured the energetic and gleeful insanity of this CRANK universe in any of the follow up features that I have seen, which include GAMER and GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. I hope the best for them because they bring a unique and frenetic style that is divisive but distinctive.
CRANK proves that Jason Statham is willing to go the extra mile and take risks in his career. In this case, it very much paid off and offers a totally insane and culty addition to his filmography which has recently become in danger of going the way of the DTV action films that many of his EXPENDABLES co-stars are trapped in.
I think Jason Statham is an incredible talent. He’s got the physique and the look of a brawler, and he has the martial arts training and charisma to do white boy kung fu along with the best of them. On top of all that he has an incredible, deadpan sense of humor. I just hope we get to see more distinctive and defining work from him like some of the films I’ve hit on today. The world can only take so many more mediocre action entries like THE MECHANIC before it relegates Statham into the bottom drawer of bygone action heroes. Here’s to hoping that THE EXPENDABLES 2 is a highlight film for him, and that his star continues to rise!
You can pick up the CRANK blu-ray at Amazon right here. There is also a handy dandy two pack of CRANK and CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE here. What do you think, folks, how high should I prioritize seeing CRANK 2? Is it an ASAP kind of thing? Or can I wait for just the right moment?
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis