Total Recall

Jason Statham's Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we take a look back at the most acclaimed work of the Mechanic: Resurrection star.

by | August 24, 2016 | Comments

Once, during a long-ago era called The ‘80s, Hollywood action heroes roamed the Earth with bulging biceps and names like Sly, Arnold, and Bruce. With a limitless supply of weapons and wisecracks, they saved the world countless times, only to be exiled to the land of Direct-to-Video for their trouble, where they wandered lost throughout the ‘90s and much of the aughts. But they’re fighting their way back from extinction, thanks in large part to the tenacious efforts of steely-eyed roughnecks like Jason Statham — and to thank him for his bravery in the face of indie dramas and romantic comedies, not to mention celebrate the arrival of this weekend’s Mechanic: Resurrection, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s feature to a list of his finest films. Are you tough enough to Total Recall, Statham style?

 The Transporter (2002) 54%

After stealing scenes in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Statham made his solo action hero debut in The Transporter, a bullet-riddled thriller about Frank Martin, a guy who, well, transports things — including illegal cargo for some pretty nasty people, no questions asked. Frank’s first adventure revolves around a conspiracy to kidnap and “import” a few dozen Chinese people, while the sequel found him playing chauffeur to a boy whose wealthy father (Matthew Modine) has run afoul of Colombian gangsters, triggering a series of events that includes a kidnapping, a deadly virus, a plane crash, and one death by wine rack. As Steven Rea asked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “It remains to be seen whether Statham can move beyond the crime-land action genre, but then again, who says he has to?”

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Cellular (2004) 55%

A textbook combination of an almost perfect cast with an utterly ludicrous screenplay, David R. Ellis’ Cellular stars Kim Basinger as a woman who’s kidnapped by a pack of thugs (led by Statham, in a rare completely villainous role) and manages to cobble together a broken cell phone to seek rescue from a stranger (Chris Evans) who just happens to be an action hero in waiting. Boasting loads of convenient coincidences, oodles of silly twists, and plenty of action, Cellular was just a little too over-the-top for some critics — but Roger Ebert, for one, had a blast. “This is one of the year’s best thrillers,” he argued. “Better than Phone Booth, for my money, and I liked that, too.”

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Safe (2012) 57%

Critics tend to appreciate Jason Statham’s talent more than they actually enjoy his movies, and Safe is a perfect example of this tension in action. Here, Statham stars as a hardboiled ex-cop who also happens to be a cage fighter who also happens to anger a Russian mob boss… and whose ruined life seems destined to end in vagrancy and suicide until he unwittingly crosses paths with yet another ruthless gangster. But set aside the eye-rolling elements of the plot and you’re left with a serviceable action thriller elevated by its star, who issues a few reminders of why he’s one of the more highly regarded action heroes working — even if there aren’t quite enough to make the end result a true critical hit. “If only,” lamented the New York Times’ Andy Webster, “someone would offer this actor a project worthy of the full range of his talent.”

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Crank 2: High Voltage (2009) 63%

Impossibly fast, gloriously filthy, and absolutely insane, Crank handed Statham the role of a lifetime: Chev Chelios, a hitman who runs afoul of the Chinese mafia and ends up plunging into L.A.’s seedy underbelly in search of an antidote for the poison that’s slowly grinding his heart to a halt. In the meantime, all he can do to stave off its effects is seek out adrenaline anywhere he can find it — including plenty of proudly R-rated action. Chev literally fell out of a helicopter at the end of Crank, only to be scooped up for the sequel by the minions of a gangster named Poon Dong, have his heart swapped out for a battery-powered replacement, and embark on an increasingly bizarre quest for revenge culminating in a final act that makes the original look sedate. “Crank qualifies as a superior piece of slick, shallow-souled trash,” wrote the Toronto Star’s Geoff Pevere. “And I mean that in the best sense of the term.”

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The Italian Job (2003) 73%

After a few post-Snatch years of toiling in downmarket fare like Ghosts of Mars and The One, Statham scored another triumph with his supporting role in F. Gary Gray’s remake of The Italian Job. Co-starring with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton in a souped-up take on the 1969 British heist classic, Statham was unquestionably back in familiar territory, but it suited him well — as did Donna and Wayne Powers’ tightly written script, Gray’s taut direction, and a barrage of nail-biting action sequences. “This is pure entertainment but smart entertainment,” argued Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, “plotted and executed with invention and humor and acted by a winning cast radiating good-movie energy.”

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Snatch (2001) 73%

Statham and Guy Ritchie hit it off so well during Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, they decided to get the band back together for Ritchie’s next picture, the disconcertingly similar — yet still pretty darn watchable — Snatch. Boasting an ensemble cast that included Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro, and Statham’s friend and fellow Lock, Stock holdover Vinnie Jones, Snatch wound together an assortment of lowlife characters, knuckleheaded cons, and frenetically edited violence. While some critics dismissed it as Lock lite (EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum called it “reheated Ritchie”), others were too dazzled to care. As Desson Thomson argued for the Washington Post, “If stories don’t happen fast, funny and powerful enough for you in the movies, push your way into the queue. This flick’s for you.”

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1999) 77%

While prepping his debut full-length film, director Guy Ritchie set off on a search for an actor who could convincingly play a streetwise con man; he found real-life ex-black market hustler Jason Statham, and the rest was history. The duo’s first collaboration, 1998’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, featured Statham as a small-time swindler named Bacon, part of a four-member crew whose efforts to cheat a local card shark (P.H. Moriarty) quickly unravel into a bloody orgy of threats, thieving, and violence. “I was thoroughly entertained while I was watching it, and I haven’t hated myself since. And that is something, though I don’t know exactly what,” wrote Andrew Sarris for the New York Observer, adding, “I didn’t even mind not understanding most of the dialogue.”

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The Bank Job (2008) 79%

Given its flatly descriptive title and the fact that Statham’s character is the hilariously named Terry Leather, you might look at The Bank Job and think it’s just another basic heist thriller, but a few things set this one ahead of the pack. To begin with, it’s loosely based on an actual London robbery; secondly, the crime’s aftermath included the British government issuing a press gag in the name of national security. All this adds up to a cops ‘n’ robbers flick with a little more on its mind than most — quite a bit more, actually, as its tangled and rather unwieldy plot can attest. But thanks to Roger Donaldson’s tense, muscular direction, The Bank Job also works well as an effective dose of adrenaline-driven action; as Tom Long wrote for the Detroit News, it’s “a tight, classic-feeling film about losers banding together for one big score, then scrambling furiously as they realize they’re in over their heads. It’s fast, nifty, sharp and sweet.”

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Furious 7 (2015) 80%

After you beat a bad guy, you’d better watch out for his brother. It’s a law of the action-movie universe — just ask Die Hard fans — but even if  it isn’t an entirely new plot device, it was still used fairly effectively in Furious 7, which picked up after the Fast & Furious gang’s defeat of the nefarious Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) by giving audiences their first good look at Owen’s equally nasty older sibling Deckard (Statham). Furthering the franchise’s evolution into full-on action saga territory, Furious 7 pitted its protagonists against the elder Shaw while calling them into service for a covert ops leader (Kurt Russell) who sends them off in pursuit of an all-powerful thumb drive — all the MacGuffin any seventh installment needs for high-speed thrills. The end result, wrote NPR’s Mark Jenkins, is “as zippy, playful and amiably preposterous as the best of the previous models.”

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Spy (2015) 94%

People love to laugh about as much as they enjoy watching stuff get blowed up real good, which is about as succinct a way as any of describing the sturdy appeal of the Hollywood action comedy. Blending set pieces and laughs can be awkward if either side of the equation isn’t up to snuff, but when it works, it works brilliantly — as evidenced by 2015’s Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy as a CIA analyst who’s drawn out into the field to try and apprehend the daughter of a nefarious arms dealer (Rose Byrne) over the objections of a rather sexist co-worker (Statham). All manner of wacky shenanigans ensue, including a number of double-crosses and faked deaths, and the end result is one of the more effortlessly entertaining — not to mention funny — espionage adventures in recent memory. “If a Spy sequel isn’t already in the works, they better get cracking,” warned the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea. “Nefarious terrorists and numbskull guys await.”

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