Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Jason Statham can't break out of the B-movie action genre.

For all intents and purposes, Jason Statham has been an action star since 2002, when Fox released the Luc Besson-produced The Transporter.  Yes, more hardened film fans knew him from his Guy Ritchie work and from his supporting role in The One (a Jet Li vehicle from late 2001, the first of three times he would spar with Jet Li onscreen).  But for general moviegoers and action junkies, Statham was introduced as Frank Martin eleven years ago as of October 11th.  In that time, Statham has arguably become the king of an all-but vanished genre.  He is basically the last action hero, the lone movie star known primarily for kicking ass in a non-fantasy and non-period setting.  But nine years is a long time to toil in the underbelly of grind house B-movie cinema.  He's had the occasional high-end picture (The Bank Job), supporting roles in A-level studio thrillers (The Italian Job) and flirtations with the big time (playing the second lead in The Expendables).  But nine years since he literally kicked down the door to stardom, Jason Statham remains pretty much where he started.

So why hasn't the biggest pure action star of his generation eventually found his way to bigger and better things?  Call it bad timing, or the misfortune of being a star in the wrong era.  Just as George Reeves became a television star at just the wrong time (after the studio contract era but before the 'playing against type is cool' era), Jason Statham is an action star in a time when pure action pictures are all-but extinct.  He is a B-movie action star in an age where A-movie action pictures more or less don’t get made anymore. In the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger could move from B-movies like The Running Man, Raw Deal, Red Heat, and Commando to more A-level features like Predator and finally Total Recall in 1990. Steven Seagal could go from Hard to Kill or Marked For Death to something like Under Siege. But big-budget, R-rated, non-fantasy action pictures are more-or-less extinct in the post-Columbine era.  As I've noted before (HERE), the post-Columbine crackdown on marketing to younger audiences have all-but completely put the kibosh on big-budget, R-rated action pictures. There really isn’t a bigger, more ‘mainstream’ action vehicle for Statham to graduate to. Studios don't make A-level action thrillers anymore.

Today the ‘stars of tomorrow’ get their PG-13 sci-fi/fantasy/comic book franchise, which is something that Statham is arguably not suited for and/or already too old to do (since the studios generally want a younger guy who can do 2-3 sequels before he’s 40). Unfortunately, the kind of action films Statham is ‘stuck’ doing, due to their general B-movie vibe, practically scream ‘rent me’ for all except the most hardcore action junkies (I say this as someone who saw and enjoyed The Mechanic in a theater). Short version, Statham is stuck forever doing Out For Justice because studios no longer make Under Siege.  If he truly desires 'bigger and better' (and who is to say he's the least bit unhappy about his relatively long career and aforementioned typecasting?), he has little choice but to try more pure thrillers like The Bank Job (easily his best film) or take supporting roles in other people's big-budget vehicles (be they genre fare or aforementioned fantasy spectacles).  For better or for worse, Jason Statham is the undisputed king of a genre that no longer has an upper level to aspire to.  The kind of films that turned Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or even Steven Seagal into megastars no longer exist.  We can debate whether or not that is a tragedy.  But it will be interesting to see what Jason Statham does now that he has reached his potential in the genre that made him an icon.

Scott Mendelson


ACOD said...

Interesting observation. I like Statham, but you have to admit he's pretty much one note. It's amazing he has worked non stop making movies for 10 years playing essentially the same lead character. I'm stumped as to where he could go from here, but here isn't that bad a place.
I grew up on Jean Claude Van Damme movies, and they were all pretty bad. I kept waiting for him to make a great movie, but he could never break through: Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Time Cop, Sudden Death, and The Quest all sucked me in with fun trailers, only to have me leave the theater shaking my head each time.
These guys are never going to appear in the next Haggis or PTA ensemble drama.

Thomas Amundsen said...

"and whose to say he's the least bit unhappy about his relatively long career and aforementioned typecasting?"

think it should say who's

Diane Lowe said...

I really enjoyed The Bank Job. I'd love to see Statham do more films like that, or maybe something along the lines of Munich or The Debt. I thought he pretty much stole all his scenes in The Italian Job remake.
It would be something different for him, but I'd like to see him try a leading role in one of the "grittier" period pieces (along the lines of Kingdom of Heaven perhaps?) that seem so popular.

Heather said...

You've got the Bank Job in there twice.

"He's had the occasional high-end picture (The Bank Job), supporting roles in A-level studio thrillers (The Bank Job) "

Do you mean The Italian Job for one of them?


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