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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

"The Bank Job" might not be Jason Statham's most action-packed movie, but it's one of his best.

Move over, Arnie: The five best Jason Statham movies


If the measly box office totals for Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand" (barely 6 million dollars on opening weekend? Yeesh!) are to be trusted, the Austrian superstar's comeback may have ended before it even started. Who is there to retain the title of America's favorite action star, blowing up stuff and dropping one-liners in the name of justice and entertainment?

Besides The Rock, the next best action star to take up the reins is Jason Statham, whose revenge heist flick "Parker" hits theaters this weekend. The gritty British actor has built himself a nice following thanks to his moderately successful B-movies, but his generic, personality-free films ("The Mechanic" anyone?) have held him back from truly turning into an icon.

Mixed in with the weak movies, however, are a few winners, namely these five films that show that Statham might just end up being the heir apparent to Arnie's action crown.

"The Italian Job"

There are two guarantees in life: Hollywood will keep making remakes, and they will keep being mostly awful. 2003's "The Italian Job" is one of the few that defies these words of cinematic wisdom. Director F. Gary Gray gives the 1969 Michael Caine original a slick, fun restyling with lots of Mini Coopers and enjoyable personalities in tow. Statham plays one of the said personalities, the group's rebellious wheelman named Handsome Rob, and while he's a minor character, he helps establish the light camaraderie between cast members (including Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Mos Def and Seth Green) that makes "The Italian Job" feel nothing like another soulless Hollywood remake.

"Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"

Sometimes, an actor needs a particular director to unlock the talent and charisma it takes to be a star. Clint Eastwood had director Sergio Leone. Arnold had James Cameron. In Jason Statham's case, he had Guy Ritchie. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" served as both men's debuts, and the stylish 1998 caper – filled with Ritchie's typical tangle of characters and dark humor – helped both men become the cool, desired Hollywood names they are now. Ritchie gave Statham a slick, clever window to display his gritty, fun charisma, and Statham made Ritchie's Cockney cool dialogue and characters even cooler.

Thanks to "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (and its follow-up "Snatch"), Ritchie became the director of the successful "Sherlock Holmes" reboots, and Statham became an action star capable of headlining at least one movie a year. Considering how entertaining the crime saga is, I'd say it worked out pretty well for audiences too.

"The Transporter"

Much like how "Commando" isn't technically a good movie but features everything I'd want from a Schwarzenegger movie, everything that is good about Jason Statham – and dumb action movies for that matter – can be found in 2002's "The Transporter." Statham's vehicular-based star vehicle somehow rises above its Eurotrash production looks and delivers sweet action with just enough story (and I literally mean just enough) to keep the viewers occupied in between fight scenes.

Fight scenes, might I add, that are ludicrously entertaining. Whether it involves Statham deflecting a missile with a serving dish or getting into a massive shirtless brawl in the middle of an oil slick – a scene that could only be manlier if football was playing in the background and steaks were hanging from the ceiling – prolific martial arts director Corey Yuen delivers goofy yet awesome entertainment. It's a great '80s action movie made a few decades too late.

"The Bank Job"

My main issue with most of Jason Statham's movies is that they tend to get bogged down in generic drama when all the audience wants is sweet action (the exceptions are the "Crank" films, which play like racist, over-caffeinated Tasmanian Devils – not a compliment). With that in mind, you'd probably expect me to hate Roger Donaldson's 2008 caper "The Bank Job," which has most of the drama with very little action.

Luckily, the taut heist flick's story – a supposedly true tale about a bank robbery that accidentally came away with some incriminating photos of British royalty – is actually quite intense, and as the leader of the job, Statham actually has a character with some depth and intrigue. There are no back flips or kicks to the face, but the tense backstabbing, political games and robbery hijinks – filmed with a cool '70s grit by Donaldson – provides all the action a movie fan could want.

"Snatch"

Writer-director Guy Ritchie has made a pretty nice career out of making the same movie. A band of criminal misfits get over their head in the convoluted British gangster underworld, filled with big money, ridiculously profane threats, dangerous Russians and Vinnie Jones. If "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" was the energetic but unpolished debut of Ritchie's formula, 2000's "Snatch" perfects it (before 2008's "RocknRolla" exhausted it).

In a web of thieving, double-dealing, bumbling and jewel-eating, a snappy Statham plays the lead in the film's best storyline involving a duo of low-rate boxing promoters trying to save their skins by getting a unintelligible gypsy fighter (a hilarious Brad Pitt) into the ring. Ritchie's style has never been as gritty and slick, his dialogue has never been as bitingly clever and his plotting has never been as trickily and satisfyingly intertwined. Plus, if a movie has nicknames like Boris the Blade, Franky Four Fingers and Bullet-Tooth Tony, I can't help but love it.

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