Safe by name, safe by nature; don’t expect too many surprises from Jason Statham‘s new movie, just the usual irresistibly dubious pleasures: car chases, kidnapped adolescent girls, martial arts dust-ups, tersely written, often ill-delivered dialogue – all of it cut together at breakneck speed to a thunderous soundtrack.
One Jason Statham movie is much like any other, or at least that’s the reductive theory. There’s some truth to it. He’s the master of two franchises – The Transporter and Crank movies – that are scarcely discernible either tonally or kinetically, while Safe partakes of Transporter 1 just as War did of The One (both co-starring his lean Asian doppelganger Jet Li), and The Mechanic did of Death Race. Euro-American action thrillers, quasi-Asian action movies, 1970s action movie remakes – every Statham movie has its antecedent, both elsewhere and within the man’s own career. He repeats himself more than Ozu and Eric Rohmer combined.
So why do I find myself not resenting him for it? After all, I have cursed at Nicolas Cage over many a long hot summer release schedule for his unwillingness to make anything but the same high-calorie, low-protein, additive- and preservative-filled action-movie trash, year in and year out. Statham, however, manages to stand out from – or perhaps just to appear measurably less preposterous than – his co-stars even in a testosterone-heavy cast like The Expendables. Perhaps that’s because his ego seems so much more secure than that of an overcompensating Napoleonic homunculus like Sly Stallone or a bone-deep narcissist like Bruce Willis, let alone a has-been/never-was such as Dolph Lundgren.
Intriguingly, Statham reads onscreen as sexually ambiguous, an omnisexual fetish-object-of-beauty for all persuasions and proclivities, much as David Beckham sometimes seemed in his high tide. Rarely is he emotionally attached or partnered up in ways that affect the narrative. Thus he remains in essence a man alone in everything he does, bathed in the poignancy of solitude even as he cracks heads and sprays lead.
Like a true movie loner, he is taciturnity embodied. He has learned Steve McQueen’s lessons well: less is always more. I can easily picture Statham going through his scripts line by line with a red pencil, like McQueen always did, and reducing five windy sentences to their punchy seven-word essence. And likely for the same motives: a realistic and grown-up acceptance of their own not very considerable thespian limits, and a taste for high-impact expressive minimalism in performance, the currency of pure movie stars, not of actors per se.
To be clear, Jason Statham is not Steve McQueen, but Jason Statham’s movies have made a billion dollars, and there are good reasons why.
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