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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Statham’

Making any kind of film, even a bad one, is quite difficult. Relatively speaking, though, it’s much easier to make one good film than a whole series of them, which may be why the cinematic landscape is littered with the remains of those who made an impressive directorial debut and then quickly ran out of puff. Many people just don’t have the legs.

I wonder if this is the category into which we should put John Carpenter. Any decent history of American horror and SF movies would have to make a clear acknowledgement of Carpenter’s massive influence on both genres – providing the model for Alien, sort of, in Dark Star, then inventing the modern slasher movie in Halloween, and creating some sort of masterpiece with his version of The Thing – but the fact remains that after a brilliantly productive first decade, since the mid-80s Carpenter seems to have gone off the boil in a fairly definitive way. He himself apparently blames it on the commercial failure of The Thing; I still think there are good movies after that (for instance Starman and They Live), just precious few of them, and none after about 1990.

So approaching a latterday Carpenter film is always a somewhat charged experience. Could this be the one where he gets his mojo back? Possibly, but you know deep down that it’s almost certainly not going to happen and you brace yourself for a once-major talent groping about trying to recapture past glories. Some times more literally than others, which brings us to Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, from 2001: something which even the director found such a gruelling experience he didn’t make another film for nearly a decade.

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Set in the late 22nd century, the film is set on (duh) Mars, which has been colonised and terraformed (this seems to be a form of stealth terraforming where the appearance of the place hasn’t changed at all but everyone can now miraculously breathe and not freeze to death). The structure of the film is somewhat complex, something we will come back to, but concerns the travails of a squad of cops sent off to a remote mining outpost to collect wanted criminal Desolation Jones (Ice Cube).

In charge of the squad is Pam Grier, with Natasha Henstridge second-in-command, and technical support coming from a lecherous sergeant played by Jason Statham (and you should now understand why it is I was bothering to watch this film in the first place). On arrival at the camp they find the place initially deserted, but then discover large numbers of mutilated corpses, and a few colonists who are acting, shall we say, somewhat oddly.

‘It’s as though they were possessed!’ observes Henstridge’s character, which is the script’s remarkably subtle way of foreshadowing the fact that the miners will all turn out to have become possessed. This is courtesy of some recently-uncorked ancient Martian spirits who are big on orgies of violence (perhaps the faintest shades of Quatermass and the Pit here). Unfortunately for the cops and a few other survivors they encounter, the Martians and their hosts are still around, and Henstridge soon finds herself leading the others in a battle to survive.

Let’s cut to the chase: Ghosts of Mars is a really bad film, so bad that I actually considered bailing out of it halfway through, which I almost never do. What’s not very obvious, however, is just why it should be such a stinker: it’s the kind of genre mash-up (SF-horror-action-western) which Carpenter had shown some facility for in the past, while the plot itself recalls other scenarios with which he had had considerable success – remote outpost menaced by amorphous alien threat, and cops and crooks besieged by an army of fanatical psychos. So why does it fall so flat?

Well, it looks painfully cheap, for one thing, especially the special effects, and the cinematography is like something from a TV programme: it’s colourful but flat, and not exactly atmospheric. Most of the rest of the film operates on the same barely-competent level. Major characters die off-screen, and when the principals figure out very early on that killing one of the possessed miners just releases its Martian passenger to hop into someone else, do they stop to consider that this may require a change of approach? No, it’s shotguns and hand grenades all the way regardless! The story is bizarrely structured, with a barely-necessary frame story about Henstridge reporting back to her superiors, but various other characters within that launching into recollections of their own. At one point, and I think I’ve got this straight in my head, we are watching a flashback inside a flashback inside a flashback, for no very essential reason. (It looks like the concept of the second draft didn’t make it to Mars.)

Most irksome of all is the fact that top billing goes to Ice Cube, who gives a performance that seems at best disinterested and at worst tranquilised. The character of Desolation Jones, wanted criminal who teams up with a cop against marauding psychos, is perhaps not a million miles away from that of Napoleon Wilson, wanted criminal who teams up with a cop against marauding psychos in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and if you want to appreciate just how duff Cube’s performance is, compare it to that of Darwin Joston in the earlier film: Joston is witty and charismatic, while Cube just sounds like he’s reading out his lines off cue cards. What makes this even more annoying is that Cube was inserted at the insistence of the studio, displacing the actor who was originally cast – Jason Statham. Now that’s what I call studio interference.

Oh well. This was very early days for the great man, though – he still has a surprising amount of hair – and in any case Henstridge is clearly playing the lead role (it is, needless to say, that of ass-kicking babe). Nevertheless – and I know I am biased – Mr S still looks like someone going places, and he has more presence than most of the other people in the cast.

What else can one say about Ghosts of Mars? Well, I have to say that for a bad film, it’s either proved surprisingly influential within the genre, or else is tapping into some other source of ideas with which I am not familiar, for watching its army of crazed, self-mutilating psychos I was immediately reminded of similar menaces from Serenity and certain episodes of Doctor Who from the 2000s. Possibly a coincidence, possibly not.

Ghosts of Mars seems content to sit very firmly within the boundaries of genre convention, anyway. No boats are being pushed out, no risks taken. As mentioned, the main character is that stock figure of low-budget genre action movies, the ass-kicking babe, and this to some extent obscures the fact that the single most interesting thing about the film is its decision to cast women as every authority figure in it, from the squad leader, to Henstridge’s superior back at base, to the scientist who fills in the back story. I can’t help but think, though, that the film somehow messes this up by pointing out from the start that Mars has a ‘matriarchal society’ – the message presumably being ‘relax, guys, things are still normal back on Earth’ – and also by suggesting that at least some of the senior women are predatory lesbians.

The fact that Ghosts of Mars can’t even get a relatively minor piece of colour detail like this right is, though, quite indicative. A bit of a Hollywood maxim has developed that films about, or set on Mars, are virtually guaranteed to lose money – this one, Mars Needs Moms, Mission to Mars, John Carter, and so on – almost as if the fabled curse of the Red Planet had spread beyond NASA to the film industry. I suspect this is not down to vague astrological influences so much as simple bad film-making, and this at least Ghosts of Mars is a very good example of: it is inept in virtually every single department.

 

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It is, as Barry Norman always used to say, football results time down at the local cinema, with the current score being Expendables 3, Inbetweeners 2. I know I alluded to going to see Inbetweeners, and I expect I probably will at some point, but there are more important things to consider when there is a new Jason Statham movie on release – even if it is one where the great man shares the screen with about a dozen other people.

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I mean, look at that thing, that’s not a film poster, that’s a school photograph. There are probably more people on it than there were in the screening that I attended, although this was probably no bad thing as the theatre PA was, for some reason, playing the theme from Terminator on a loop prior to the film starting. Now there’s nothing wrong with Brad Fiedel’s magnum opus, but listening to it more than three times in a row puts one in the vein for running amok (it’s a bit like surreal French comedy-dramas in that respect). You could feel the tension ratchet up every time it started over again. (By the way, judging from the crowd I was in with, the demographic Expendables 3 is most successfully reaching consists of middle-aged men, Saudi Arabians, and drunks.)

Anyway, the film finally got underway, thankfully. Proceedings open with chief Expendable Barney (Stallone) and the boys busting a new character named Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of prison, on the grounds that he is an old mate (and so he should be, after Demolition Man and Chaos). Snipes hasn’t really been in a major movie for about ten years, mainly due to his going to jail for real on charges of tax evasion – which this film duly cracks wise about – and he seizes on his role here with gusto. And it is nice to see him back.

After some more of the laborious bromance between Stallone and Jason Statham they all go off to Mogadishu to bust up an arms deal but are shocked when their target turns out to be evil ex-Expendable Conrad Stonebanks, who used to be a respected and popular figure until he revealed what a horrible person he really was. He is played by Mel Gibson, and you can write your own joke at this point. Gibson puts a bullet in one of the minor team members, causing everyone else no end of distress (they obviously still haven’t really thought this ‘Expendable’ thing through).

Confronted, somewhat ridiculously, by mortality, Stallone gathers everyone down the pub and announces that they are sacked, on the grounds that they are too old. Yes, that’d be Stallone (68) sacking Statham (43) on the grounds of unforgivable dodderiness. Hmm. If they all carry on, Stallone declares, it’ll end up with ‘everyone in a hole in the ground and nobody giving a ****’. It did occur to me that even before anyone ended up in a hole in the ground, there wasn’t a great deal of evidence of people actually giving ****s, but this was just ungenerous of me.

The Expendables’ former CIA liaison, Church, has departed (mainly because Bruce Willis wanted a million dollars a day to turn up, which Stallone refused to give him) and been replaced by a new guy named Drummer. He is played, barely credibly, by Harrison Ford. Ford offers Stallone another chance at bringing in Gibson, which of course he jumps at – even if it means assembling a new team of young Expendables to help him do so…

Something really odd starts happening to the film at this point, although it has been on the cards since the start of the film. As you can see, Stallone has run out of superannuated 80s action movie heroes to recruit for these movies (I’m guessing Steven Seagal is too busy hanging out with Putin to answer his phone) and the net has been cast a bit wider, with performers like Ford, Gibson, and Snipes signing up. This continues with the appearance of Kelsey Grammer as a mercenary recruitment agent and Antonio Banderas as a rather excitable Latino Expendable. Not only are these people not known solely as action stars, but most of them are actually charismatic and can genuinely act, and so there are a number of scenes which are genuinely involving or funny in a non-ironic way.

This really wasn’t what I turned up to an Expendables movie to see, to be perfectly honest: I just wanted cheesy old hulks staggering around bleating out one-liners while stuff blew up in the background. Now, it’s true that Stallone is the main character, and there’s also a significant appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, so there’s always a degree of cheesy old hulkiness going on, but even so. The new young Expendables are a highly forgettable bunch – if I say that the most charismatic of the lot of them is a guy who used to be in Twilight, you will get a sense of just how anonymous they are.

And, as I say, it was almost as if I was watching a proper, semi-serious action movie for a bit: the script comes within spitting distance of serious topics connected with deniable government interventions, the use of mercenary troops as a foreign policy tool, and the ethical underpinnings of the concept of ‘war crimes’. And again, this was not at all what I expected. The film was turning out to be much less stupid and ridiculous than advertised, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Thankfully, this attempt to drag the Expendables franchise into less ludicrous territory only lasted for the duration of the second act, at the end of which everything went back to normal and the film became as absurdly predictable as it had ever been. Serious talk of dragging Gibson off to stand trial for war crimes is dismissed by Stallone with a hearty cry of ‘Screw the Hague!’ and everything proceeds to blow up at quite absurd length.

That said, Patrick Hughes’ direction of the action sequences that are crucial to the movie is deeply uninspired, and most of them are just like watching someone else play Call of Duty, which isn’t a great spectator sport. To be fair, he doesn’t let the massive number of characters become a real problem, but it is true that some of the people feel a little underserved – and not just Mr S, either.

There must surely be some serious pruning of the ranks, in the event of this series grinding on for subsequent installments (we are told Pierce Brosnan and Hulk Hogan are already in talks, plus Stallone has been sending up balloons concerning a female-fronted version entitled – oh, God – The Expendabelles). The Expendables 3 isn’t an actively bad film: it’s not as depressing as the first one, or as ridiculous as the second. But the joke is showing serious signs of wearing too thin to be funny, and all concerned might do well to stop while it still has the capacity to amuse or entertain.

 

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Ah, the film career of Jason Statham: or as I always think of it, the gift that keeps on giving. While there is inevitably a shadow over the prospects of Mr Statham’s highest-profile release for 2014, Fast and Furious 7, this year has been a good one for Shirebrook’s most famous son – by which I mean that none of his films has been an Expendables, and one of them (Hummingbird) was genuinely really good. Now, with the Christmas season upon us, we have one last treat featuring the great man (and a supporting cast of actors whom, it must said, once looked set for better things than secondary roles in mid-budget genre movies).

This is not to say that Gary Fleder’s Homefront is by any stretch of the imagination a family-friendly Christmas movie. As you might expect, it is rather too high both in terms of its people-beaten-to-a-pulp quotient and effing-and-jeffing-o-meter for that. A higher-minded friend of mine might even find himself moved to describe it as another ‘dystopian opera of urban pain’ were it not for the fact that much of it takes place in the countryside.

Homefront_Poster

Jason Statham plays, as ever, the Jason Statham Character, who in this film is in his maverick cop incarnation: an uproariously silly opening sequence sees him working undercover with a gang of meth-dealing bikers (crystal meth is so modish these days), before taking them down in a shootout and bike chase that leaves the substance of his wig wholly unruffled.

Thankfully, at this point the film calms down and the action relocates to rural Louisiana, two years later. Following the unelaborated-upon death of his wife, the Jason Statham Character has retired to the remote countryside to raise his young daughter and renovate a rattly old house. Louisiana looks beautiful and for most of the movie, the direction is moody and effective, picking up on the details of small-town life.

One of the neater twists in the script is the way that what looks like a minor character moment actually turns out to be the inciting incident for the entire plot of the film: the local school bully tries to pick on Statham’s daughter and, being her father’s girl, she promptly lamps him. Statham is called in for a meeting with the school counsellor (Rachelle Lefevre), following which the other kid’s parents confront him, so he promptly goes in for a spot of lamping himself.

This does not sit well with the mother of the bully (an almost unrecognisable Kate Bosworth, whose A-list career was a casualty of the great Superman Returns disaster), who realises that her useless husband is not up to the task of restoring the family honour. So she gets on the phone to her brother Gator (James Franco). Gator is the local drugs manufacturer, but it’s his credentials as a general headcase that she’s more interested in. Through his girlfriend (Winona Ryder) he happens to have connections with some of the gangs that Statham, in his former life, was such a nuisance to, which may prove pertinent to the unfolding plot…

Now, it would really be stretching a point to claim that Homefront is anything more than a competently-made mid-range genre movie, but it does a very effective job of balancing the action and thriller beats this kind of film requires with a clever and coherent script that – for the most part – departs from the planet Earth no more than is absolutely necessary. I see the actual screenplay is based on a novel by Chuck Logan, but written for the screen by and up-and-coming young talent named… hang on a minute, let me check my notes… Sylvester Stallone. (Sylvester, huh? Sounds like a bookish, sensitive young chap.) Well, young Stallone me laddo, if you’re reading this, the script for Homefront is really quite good, and you have a great future ahead of you as a screenwriter – but I would still be careful not to get stuck in the action movie ghetto.

The film tries especially hard to make the escalation from playground clash of egos to full-auto matter of life and death seem half-way credible, and it succeeds up to a point. Unfortunately the story not only requires Statham to keep a massive personal arsenal under his bed (somewhat at odds with the careful nature of the character on this occasion), but also to have detailed files on all his past cases lying unsecured around the house, so this is at most rather qualified success.

Anyone hoping for another instance of Mr Statham really stretching himself as a performer, a la Hummingbird, is probably going to be disappointed, too. The closest thing to an innovation in his characterisation here is making him a single parent, and even here one is inevitably reminded of his relationship with Catherine Chan in last year’s Safe. This is yet another movie which ducks the possibility of giving Statham an actual on-screen romance, although there are hints of something potentially on the cards with Lefevre’s character. In the end it really just boils down to Statham doing his usual thing with his usual facility – the hard-man-code-of-honour-soft-side-no-nonsense-wise-cracking-one-liner thing. The fights are good this time, as are the one-liners (the best one comes at the end of a three-against-one fight and goes: ‘When I get home tonight, I’m going to tell my daughter a story. And this is how it ends:‘ *KER-THWOK*).

A definite plus to the movie, however, is the presence of James Franco as the chief antagonist. Franco’s not the most obvious choice of opponent for Statham, and I’ve been fairly rude about his acting on occasion in the past, but he manages to give Gator a dead-pan quirkiness that lifts him above the level of the stereotyped bad guy he could very easily have been. He’s an oddly likeable character, initially at least, even though the film also makes it quite clear that in many ways he’s an irredeemable scumbag.

But there isn’t anything particularly outstanding about Homefront – it’s a film of extremely modest ambitions that manages to hit the targets it sets itself in a highly polished and competent way. It’s a Jason Statham action thriller. It’s a pretty good Jason Statham action thriller, with a relatively sensible plot and decent performances. But it still doesn’t transcend the limits of the genre in any meaningful sense worth mentioning. I had a good time watching it, but then I would – and I suspect that in a few years time I’ll struggle to remember which scenes were in this one, as opposed to The Mechanic or Parker. A solid movie, but basically meat-and-potatoes stuff for Mr Statham and his fans.

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It sometimes feels like the world is full of awkward truths, facts that you would really give anything not to have to acknowledge, but ones that decency and integrity eventually and inevitably require you to. If you are a Star Wars fan you have to reach some sort of accommodation with the first two prequels; if you love Richard Wagner’s operas you have to acknowledge the noxious racial prejudice underlying much of his greatest work. And if you are an admirer of Jason Statham you have to accept that he started his movie career working for Guy Ritchie and ended up starring in the director’s Revolver.

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In the past I’ve made various jokes along the lines of ‘I’ve never seen a really bad Jason Statham movie – but then I haven’t watched Revolver yet, har har’. I really shouldn’t have, but then my thought processes ran (rather naively) along the lines of ‘everyone involved appears to be at least vaguely competent, and this is a fairly big movie – film studios aren’t stupid, there’s a limit to quite how bad it can be’. Oh, boy.

Revolver was released in the first half of 2005 and so dates back to that period when Jason Statham wasn’t quite perceived as a star who could carry a movie on his own (I think this started to happen after the success of Transporter 2 and Crank, not that it matters). Certainly the essential Jason Statham characterisation has yet to fully crystallise at this point, and he is magnificently coiffed and moustachioed in this film too.

Anyway, in Revolver Mr Statham plays Jake Green, a shady character not long out of prison and intent on revenge on the gangster he holds responsible for putting him there, Macha (Ray Liotta). During his time in prison Green has learnt something only referred to as the Formula, a system which makes him utterly invincible at any game or confidence trick. It appears that this even extends to playing heads-or-tails, and if you can’t get your head around how that could possibly work, walk away now (you will beat the rush if nothing else).

Having taken Macha for a sizeable chunk of cash, Green is dismayed to learn he is terminally ill and has only three days left to live (look, just don’t ask; just let it wash over you, all right?). He agrees to an offer from two mysterious loan sharks (Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore) who will save his life in exchange for all his money and a sort of indentured servitude. Reluctantly he agrees.

And that’s really all I can tell you about the plot of Revolver; not because there are various twists and surprises which I am loth to spoil (I suppose there are), but because for most of the rest of the movie I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on. Some drugs get stolen and there’s a half-hearted attempt at a gang war, there are various cons within cons, Ray Liotta walks around a lot in his pants (even in the buff, for one dismaying scene), there is blood, mayhem, an awful lot of effing and jeffing, everyone worries a lot about a mysterious character called Mr Gold who doesn’t seem to actually appear in the film, and so on. But what you mainly get is Jason Statham doing a voice-over as Jake Green’s interior monologue.

Jake Green has a lot to say for himself through his interior monologue. Unfortunately – and you may be ahead of me here – what he has to say for himself is almost complete gibberish, mostly related to his mysterious Formula and the life lessons he has derived from it.

It’s not the case that Revolver has a complex plot which is just realised through poor storytelling. Revolver has an allegorical and symbolic plot, the deeper meaning of which remains almost entirely impenetrable simply through watching the film. Various numbers appear prominently at certain points, while colours are clearly also significant – not only do we have key players named Green and Gold, but some scenes are flooded with red or blue or white.

My understanding is that the key to attempting to make sense of Revolver is an appreciation of kabbalah, a Jewish-derived numerological system which Guy Ritchie was heavily into at the time he made the film. Quite how much of this interest derived from Ritchie’s then-wife Madonna, who is apparently a dead-keen kabbalah nut herself, I don’t know, but it’s very difficult not to jump to conclusions. (As an aside, one can’t help but be rather impressed by the way that Madonna managed to spectacularly wreck Ritchie’s directorial career even when she wasn’t personally appearing in his films. She clearly has some sort of extraordinary death-touch when it comes to anything involving the silver screen.)

Well, anyway, I don’t know the first thing about kabbalah, and neither, I suspect, does Jason Statham, which may explain why he is obviously floundering around in this film, basically resorting to just snarling and sweating a lot while his interior monologue plays over the top. This film is light on action and the kind of snappy dialogue Statham can usually deliver so well – to be honest, it’s light on everything except a sort of studied pretension. Not only is it virtually impossible to tell what the director is trying to say, it’s also impossible to tell just where the film is even supposed to be taking place – British, American, and Chinese characters mingle together almost at random.

Suffice to say this film is extremely hard work, with virtually no entertainment value beyond the background hum derived from seeing Jason Statham on screen. Mark Strong appears as a slightly nerdy hitman and achieves the minor miracle of making his scenes rather gripping – this, I remind you, in a context where unsympathetic and obscure characters do abstract things for no apparent reason and various major plot questions are never even acknowledged, let alone answered. But apart from Statham and Strong this is just awful, pretentious, obscure, nasty tripe.

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Hard though it may be for some friends to believe, I have not yet covered the complete opus of Mr Jason Statham; indeed, there are some films of his that I haven’t even seen. Still, it’s nice to have something to do, even if I’m occasionally moved to doubt my conviction that there’s no such thing as a bad Statham movie.

Recently I have had cause to reflect on the fact that 2005 is longer ago than it feels – to me, anyway. Tony Giglio’s Chaos is a movie from that year, and as a result it qualifies as one of Mr Statham’s earlier vehicles – if we’re going to get very pretentious (and why not) it’s a-movie-with-Jason-Statham-in-it rather than a-Jason-Statham-movie proper. It also features a couple of actors who were reasonably big stars eight years ago but now seem prime candidates for the Where Are They Now? file (well, in one case the sad answer is ‘appearing in Expendables movies’, and I’m not talking about Statham himself).

Anyway. Mr Statham plays Quentin Conners, a detective currently on suspension following a hostage crisis which ended rather badly. But Connors is reinstated when a gang of thieves led by the mysterious Lorenz (Wesley Snipes, prior to his extended sojourns in Namibia and the prison system) attempt to rob a bank and end up in a tense siege situation. Lorenz insists that the only man he’ll negotiate with is Conners – but why?

The siege ends in chaos – the criminals don’t seem to have taken anything from the vault, but they also manage to avoid being caught. Conners and his team (including new, strait-laced partner Ryan Philippe) have a slim lead to follow, more by luck than anything else – but in addition to catching the bad guys, can they solve the mystery of the robbery that wasn’t?

Chaos is definitely a thriller with pretensions to sophistication, not a straight action movie, and this is another reason why it sits somewhat uneasily within the Statham canon. I know I usually refer to the fact that Jason Statham only ever plays the same character, but this is obviously a bit of a generalisation. In addition to playing the main Jason Statham Character, he also does a nice line in wild-man psychos, charming scoundrels, and either rogue or semi-rogue cops. This last is the mode he’s in here, and his performance is perfectly serviceable (even if he seems to be having one of his frequent off-days when it comes to doing an American accent). Nevertheless, this film is not a star vehicle for him.

Instead it’s a twisty-turny police procedural with an occasional rather ho-hum action sequence mixed in. The opening definitely put me in mind of Inside Man (which actually came out the following year), but this movie has nothing like the same quality, wit, or strength in its performances. To be honestly, I never really cared what was going on or who was doing what to whom – the script just picks elements from a menu of crime thriller staples and assembles them together without much style or invention.

There is a twist ending which I suspect was supposed to make me go ‘Wow! How clever!’, but didn’t: it just struck me as rather implausible and arguably a bit of a cheat. Now, I can’t really carry on talking about Chaos in any real detail without spoiling the twist, so be warned: on the other side of the poster I will potentially ruin this movie’s plot for you in perpetuity. Last warning!

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Statham is actually the villain, orchestrating a series of crimes to get revenge on a system he feels treated him and his partner (Snipes) unfairly following the hostage thing at the start. In order for this to work, the movie has to be extremely selective about what it shows us of the incident which sets the whole plot in motion. Even at the time this felt a bit odd, and it is just a slightly laboured plot-facilitating device.

And, beyond this, Statham’s supposed to be playing a semi-rogue cop, one of those mavericks who’s always being summoned to the captain’s office for a dressing down after a big car chase or whatever. I can entirely believe him in that sort of role; it’s not quite his stock-in-trade, but close enough. But – with all due respect – Statham as some sort of machiavellian planner, a criminal genius? The ending of the film, with him on the phone to Philippe in a rather implausible hat, seems to be trying to recall The Silence of the Lambs, with him in the Hannibal Lecter role. No, guys. I love Jason Statham, but he has his limits. It doesn’t suit his acting range or the back-story of the film.

Given the final revelation, I’m not sure the rest of the plot hangs together coherently, and I don’t really have the desire to watch the film again to check (always a sign a twist ending hasn’t worked properly). The switch also causes structural issues for the film – this isn’t a Statham vehicle, but he’s still the main character, so the sudden promotion of Philippe to protagonist towards the end is a little bit of a wrench.

Still, it’s not awful, just an odd mixture of the preposterous and the dull. No-one really gets a chance to shine in this film, and Wesley Snipes in particularly doesn’t get the screen-time you’d expect (he and Statham barely have any scenes where they’re both in the same room). It’s okay. It’s just very forgettable and a lot less smart than it thinks it is.

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Yes, it’s that most joyous time of the year again: a proper new Jason Statham movie is on release! Thrilling though the mid-credits teaser on Fast and Furious 6 obviously was (and I can only imagine how I would have reacted had I not known it was coming), there’s nothing that quite compares to seeing Mr Statham in a vehicle of his very own (and I’m not talking about sports cars either).

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The vessel of delights this time around is Steven Knight’s Hummingbird (trading in other territories, I’m given to understand, as Redemption and Crazy Joe). The problem with Jason Statham only making two or three films a year is that one inevitably spends three or four months getting in a bit of an anticipatory lather about each one – and when the great man goes through a run of less-than-completely-sparkling releases (which, with Parker, Expendables 2, and Safe, has arguably been the case) the sense of disappointment is inevitably somewhat crushing. Well, fear not, readers: Hummingbird is an absolute belter.

The story proper opens on the streets of London with criminal low-lives preying ruthlessly on the homeless of the city. When one of them attempts to fight back, he is savagely beaten and forced to flee, losing touch with his only friend (a young homeless girl). While being pursued by his tormentors, the raggedy straggly homeless man stumbles into an empty apartment (the owner is away for a year). Hiding out there, he takes the opportunity to shower, shave, cut his hair and have a change of clothes: and lo! He transforms into the Jason Statham Character we know and love!

The Jason Statham Character is, of course, an ex-special forces soldier with a fierce code of honour, and having effectively adopted the identity of his unwitting landlord he sets about finding his friend and turning his life around. A job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant rapidly leads to employment as a chauffeur and mob enforcer – but a grim discovery concerning the fate of his friend leads Mr Statham to set out to do a little enforcement of his own on a private basis…

Yes, I know: ex-special forces, lethal homeless man, friendship with young girl, people-trafficking, Chinese gangsters, vigilante justice, a spot of transporting – put like that Hummingbird does sound rather like the Greatest Hits of Jason Statham all shuffled together. And to some extent this is true, but since when was watching Mr Statham’s best bits such an ordeal? Also, this movie does find some new and interesting things for him to do.

The opening section of the film has a sort of minor wobble where it looks like the whole thing is going to veer off into plotless arty pretension, but it turns out this is just setting up a nicely straightforward storyline distinguished by having a couple of grown-up questions at its centre – can a person ever really change who they are? And what does it really mean to be good? But fear not: the film’s exploration of these issues takes a form which includes the requisite helpings of regular, savage, bone-crunching violence, various shootings and stabbings, the delivery of some extremely implausible threats, and some just plain bonkers bits (there’s a point at which Mr Statham turns up to a knife fight carrying a spoon). Also – and this really is a first for the Jason Statham canon – there’s a subplot in which our hero romantically interferes with a nun.

This being a Jason Statham movie, we are not in traditional romantic territory, as he initiates his suit by inviting her to a private barbeque at a London meat market in the middle of the night. ‘I think you have psychological problems,’ the nun (Agata Buzek) informs our hero, which would not ordinarily be a good sign, but here merely suggests she is paying attention. Actually, the relationship between the two is genuinely touching, and well-played on both sides – it took me totally by surprise when it happened, but also managed to be plausible (relatively speaking).

Jason Statham actually getting into a relationship with a woman in the course of a movie is a bit unusual (though not totally unheard of). Certainly at some points in Hummingbird it’s almost as if mixed signals are being sent by the film – Mr Statham pretends to be his landlord’s boyfriend, he appears surrounded by photographs of male appendages at another point, and so on. I was almost put in mind of the alleged gay subtext to Transporter 2, but then again soon enough Mr Statham is getting down to it with someone who has taken holy orders, and if that’s not definitive I don’t know what is.

Hummingbird is ultimately all about the central relationship and the effect these two characters have on each other – there is a lot of stuff about Mr Statham being out for vengeance and a sort of vigilante justice angle, but it’s secondary. The estimable film-critic Vern has suggested there are two kinds of vigilante justice movie: the first kind, where the act of being a vigilante makes the world a better place, and the second, where it just shows what a terrible state the world was in to begin with. If anything, Hummingbird is of the second variety – but only by default. This is a drama as much as a thriller, and as such it’s less formulaic than you might expect.

On the surface this looks like another dystopian opera of urban pain (as a friend of mine has defined the Statham canon’s default setting), but it has real heart and soul: it’s a film which seems to desperately want to be hopeful and give its characters the happy ending they surely deserve. If the ending is ultimately ambiguous (and I’m trying really hard here to avoid spoiling the film any more than I already have), then it doesn’t seem to be cynical about this. I had grown to care about the characters and really wanted the best for them; I found the conclusion genuinely moving.

And how often can you say that about a Jason Statham movie? Hummingbird is very nearly miraculous in the way it takes the Jason Statham Character and all the associated requirements of a Statham movie (the violence, the silliness) and inserts them seamlessly into a genuinely thoughtful and involving story with engaging characters and great performances. If the price of this is the film perhaps being a little light on the action front, that’s a price I’m more than happy to pay. This is up there with The Transporter and The Bank Job as one of the best movies Mr Statham has ever made.

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So, I was in the pub the other afternoon, catching up with a friend: a woman of impressive wit and intelligence, no small measure of physical beauty, and (regrettably) impeccable taste when it comes to romantic entanglements.

‘Have you seen any really crap films recently?’ she asked, fully aware, like most who know me well, that when not working or actually asleep I spend most of my time in front of a screen of some description.

I had to think about that for a bit, and realised I had actually been enjoying a pretty decent run so far this year: a few disappointments, but nothing actually traumatically bad. ‘But,’ I added, ‘I am going to see Fast & Furious 6 tomorrow.’ I filled her in on what I gathered to be the general tone, plot, and content of the film.

‘Good God that sounds awful,’ she said, and then added (knowing me rather too well, come to think of it), ‘it sounds like the kind of film Jason Statham would be in.’

I think I’ve mentioned already that Cocktail is her favourite film. Hey ho. Well, for the purposes of answering her question, I have to say that I can’t honestly describe Fast & Furious 6 (directed, like number 5, by Justin Lin) as a really crap film. I am aware that in doing so I may be using a different qualitative scale to the one traditionally employed on the planet Earth, but so be it.

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Gravelly-voiced boy racer/criminal mastermind Dominic Toretto (the great Vin Diesel), together with his extended family of morally-flexible motorheads, has relocated to the Canary Islands to live off his ill-gotten gains. The film opens with a classic Dumb Movie Bit where Diesel and his rather drab sidekick (Paul Walker) have some dialogue stressing that they have Moved On With Their Lives and the days of constant hazard and adventure are Well And Truly Over. You know this scene has only been included because they are going to go back to their lives of constant hazard and adventure about four minutes later.

And so it proves, as slightly ridiculous colossus of justice Hobbs (The Rock (Dwayne Johnson)), acting on information battered out of a suspect in Moscow, recruits Diesel to help him catch criminal mastermind Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who used to be in the boy racer division of the SAS. The carrot to get Diesel on board is the presence on Shaw’s team of his old flame Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who everyone thought was dead and is, in any case, suffering from Movie Amnesia.

(Oh, the divine and fragrant Michelle Rodriguez, back on the big screen! How long has it been, ‘Chelle? Do you remember the days when you first came into my life? Films like Resident Evil, Blue Crush and S.W.A.T.? I guess a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then for us both, and there are other special people who I have to think about now – Rose Byrne, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Steph who does the business news on breakfast TV, to name but three. Anyway…)

Diesel bites (obviously) and convenes the Fast & Furious All-Stars in London to commence operations against Shaw and his gang. Jordana Brewster has a considerably reduced role this time round, as her character is technically on maternity leave, but stepping in to replace her is the statuesquely lovely Gina Carano of Haywire fame. I’ve been dying to see Carano in another movie, and while this one obviously wouldn’t have the intelligence or restraint of one from the Soderbergh collective, it was still shaping up to be something a bit different…

And so it proves. Very elderly readers may recall the original The Fast and the Furious starring Diesel, which came out in 2001 and was a fairly gritty (if slightly glitzy) thriller about the illegal street racing scene and the subversive glamour of a life of crime. Fast & Furious 6, on the other hand, is… well, look, it’s got to the point where they sit around thinking up stunt sequences and then write the script around them (apparently the climax of this film is a stunt they’ve been trying to think of a way to include since number 4).

It basically goes a little something like this: Vroom vroom. Discussion about FAMILY. Exposition. Exposition. Comic relief. Fistfight. Comic relief. Vroom vroom. Exposition. Discussion of differential tranmissions. FAMILY. Comic relief. Comic relief. FAMILY. Vroom vroom. Explosion. Fist fight. Comic relief. Exposition. FAMILY. Vroom vroom.

And so on. As you may have noticed, the big theme that is impressed upon the small section of the audience’s brains not pummelled into submission by the sound and fury on the screen concerns FAMILY, which is what Diesel and his gang of criminals have apparently decided that they are. This sort of vein of cheesy sentiment inserted into an otherwise relentless cavalcade of violence, misogyny, off-colour humour and general amorality put me rather in mind of the later Lethal Weapon movies, but this is a much bigger and brasher movie than any of those.

It is, on most levels, completely ridiculous, of course: it’s very hard to describe this film, with its dubious premise, ludicrous stunts, arbitrary plot reversals, and general lack of any sense of reality, without using the words ‘utterly stupid’ – there is, for example, a sequence concerned with the apparently-thriving street-racing scene in central London, a city noted for being extremely welcoming to those wishing to drive around it at speed. (I just hope Vin and the rest remembered to pay the Congestion Charge.) And yet, and yet… it is still somehow rather winningly contrived. It looks gorgeous, bits of it are genuinely funny (though I could have done without the scenes where the Rock metaphorically smacks down various uppity Brits), everyone gets something interesting and occasionally involving to do, and the big stunt sequences have a sort of carefree abandonment about them which is rather beguiling – there’s an operatically destructive set-piece involving a couple of landrovers, half a dozen cars, two motorbikes, a truck and a tank, and this isn’t even the climax. Plus, we get not one but two knock-down-drag-out bouts of fisticuffs between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano, which were surely the most, er, thrilling thing I’ve seen on the big screen in ages. (There’s a bit where Michelle starts biting Gina’s thigh, and… and… I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me a moment.)

 

 

 

What else can I say about Fast & Furious 6? It is a highly polished, precision-built, beautiful-to-look-at machine of such vaulting absurdity it almost beggars the imagination. I really shouldn’t have enjoyed it, even ironically, and yet the fact remains that I did. In terms of big, dumb, silly, fun action movies, Fast & Furious 6 sets the standard: this is the film The Expendables wishes it could be.

And … spoiler ahoy! … this is before we even come to the post-credits sequence, in which the brother of the villain sets out upon a rollicking rampage of revenge against Vin and the others. Suffice to say that when he appears, he has a baldy head, a variable accent, and a notable history of vehicular mayhem of his own: my alluring friend would not have been in the least surprised to see him. This and the previous Fast & Furious both turned out to be unreasonably good entertainment: but the next one promises to be something truly epochal. I cannot imagine any power on Earth keeping me from seeing it.

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