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Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2006 05:24 pm

Not just a crank

Why Jason Statham is a different kind of action star

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Jason Statham

Jason Statham (pronounced “stay-thum,” with a hard “th”) is a different kind of action star. Unlike Schwarzenegger or Stallone, he speaks fluent English, although it is Cockney. Statham’s latest action vehicle, Crank, opened quite well despite his low level of recognition here. British crime-movie virtuoso Guy Ritchie discovered Statham when he was a model and cast him in his debut film, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), a densely plotted comedy thriller that vibrantly brings to life London’s underworld. Statham co-stars as one of four friends who pool their money for a high-stakes poker game that leaves them a half million in debt to a mobster. Statham blended into the background, but he was far more noticeable in Ritchie’s follow-up, Snatch (2000). Statham played the central role as Turkish, a boxing promoter with mob ties who recruits an undisciplined Gypsy bare-knuckle fighter (Brad Pitt). In both films there is a lot more going on than the threadbare plot. Statham proved a solid protagonist among the film’s gallery of crazies. Snatch must be included on any list of the greatest crime films ever made.

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (2001) is one of Statham’s earliest American films, but it was a poor introduction to his action skills. The listless action scenes may be a result of Carpenter’s highly publicized illnesses. Statham portrays a cop on Mars who is part of a squad sent to pick up and transport a criminal (Ice Cube). The operation is complicated by Martian ghosts who have possessed the locals. Some movies play better than they sound; Ghosts is as ridiculous as it sounds.

Statham is best known in America for his two Transporter movies (2002 and 2005), in which he is some sort of nearly invincible thug who delivers illegal packages. Both films stretch credibility to its limits, but the wonderfully choreographed action scenes are a great showcase for his fighting skills. Statham can actually act, and this skill is shown in the recent DVD release London (2005). He takes on a supporting role as a guy who tags along with a drug customer to a party. London gives him less action and more hair. Statham’s big scene of an emotional confession is both intense and heartfelt, proving that he doesn’t need to rely solely on his fists. The film’s major problem is that the central character is such an insufferable creep, his scenes are a real endurance test. Statham’s potential stretches far beyond action. With any luck, he will be allowed to explore.

New on DVD this Tuesday (Sept. 19): Stick It, Stay Alive, and The Proposition.

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