24 Lies a Second: Educating Dmitri

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Educating Dmitri

Dear Dim,

I hope you will forgive me writing to you like this, but for some things the ephemerality of the spoken word is simply inappropriate, while a regular email just lacks gravitas. When expressing sympathy for someone in the circumstances in which you currently find yourself, the gravitas of an old-fashioned letter – or as close an approximation as the situation allows – is the only solution.

I must say that since you made your revelation, I have been marvelling at the grace and good spirits you have kept up throughout our relationship. I honestly never even suspected and never would have guessed the terrible truth that underlay your cheery facade. Words cannot express the shock and sheer disbelief that crowded into my mind when you so casually said 'I've never heard of Jason Statham.'

How have you coped all these years? What must life have been like for you? Certainly, I myself cannot imagine coping with the vicissitudes of daily life without regular recourse to viewings of The Transporter to take the edge off at the end of a rough day. However, as luck would have it, Mr Statham has a new film on release at the moment and this should serve not just as a vehicle for the great man himself, but also for me to impart a few basic facts about him.

But first, key essential information. Jason Statham is a British action movie star and a big name in global cinema, his films having ker-chinged at the box office to the tune of over a billion dollars. Before appearing in films – I phrase it thusly as some would say that 'acting' was too strong a word for it – he was a professional athlete and then a model. He is distinguished firstly by being a bit of a baldy, and secondly by having only a wobbly grasp of the American accent.

However, this is improving, which is a good thing because the new movie, Safe, is set in New York City. Now one of the things about Mr Statham that makes him so popular is that he sticks to what he's good at and more-or-less plays the same character in all his films (the names and backgrounds and accents change – well, the accent less so). Safe looks at first like being a bit of a departure, in that the Jason Statham Character is a homeless person living on the streets and eking out a pretty miserable existence.

However, when he crosses the path of an eleven-year-old maths prodigy (Catherine Chan) fleeing from the Russian Mafia, the Triads, and corrupt cops, he soon reveals that we are still in familiar territory – leaping aboard the crowded train where some bad guys have cornered her, the Jason Statham Character whirls into action in familiar style: heads are butted, bones are cracked, and nuts are crunched, all very convincingly. One of the reasons for Mr Statham's success is that he is simply very good at this sort of sequence, even to the extent where comparisons with bona fide martial arts stars are favourably drawn.

Anyway, he soon wreaks some 15-certificate havoc amongst his enemies, which surprises them as they thought he was a bin man. This allows Mr Statham to deliver some of the pithy dialogue he is also noted for, as in the following moment when he has turned the tables on the last of his opponents:

Bad Guy: 'You!?!?!? The garbage collector?!?!?!'

Jason Statham Character: 'I never collected garbage. I disposed of it.' BLAM.To aghast bystanders: 'Don't lose any sleep. He wasn't a nice person.'

Ah, a moment to savour, is it not? Anyway, Mr Statham wastes no time in setting himself up as the protector of the young girl. It transpires she has been working for the Triads against her will and been forced to memorise a Long And Important Number (= obvious McGuffin). Now every bad guy in the city is on her case – which is obviously bad news for her, but good news for the audience as the prospects for Statham-based carnage are very hopeful.

Sadly, Safe doesn't quite live up to the promise of its opening section, and what looks like it's going to be an entertainingly bonkers chase movie becomes a little bit too preoccupied with a convoluted and not especially convincing plot. Boaz Yakin's direction is stronger than his script: the film is pacy and inventively-shot, but too many of the characters are ciphers (the Russian and Chinese gangsters are almost ridiculously stereotyped, which I should say is not unusual nor necessarily a problem in one of Mr Statham's films) and at times the story is almost trying to be too clever for its own good.

Mr Statham's best and most memorable films all work by briskly establishing the background details of who he is this time around (as I said, he always basically plays the same part – a highly-skilled and rather dangerous loner, often a mercenary of some kind, but with a strong moral code and a heart of gold) and then turning him loose in a nice straightforward plot with frequent opportunities for spectacular mayhem and memorable excess and/or craziness.

Unfortunately, Safe rather fumbles this by making the exact background of the Jason Statham Character something of a plot point – is he a homeless person? Is he a cage-fighter fallen foul of the mob? Is he a bin man? Is he a cop? Is he some sort of shadowy government agent? It's quite a long time before this all becomes clear, it's not very well-handled, and frankly it's a distraction from the nut-crunching.

I was also not completely enamoured of the way the plot developed towards the end of the film, in particular the revelation of the main villain's identity and the fashion in which the climax was handled. The former felt like a bit of an afterthought, while the latter... well, I've nothing against playing with the audience's expectations of a film: they can really make it engaging and special. However, there are surely limits to this – you'd be playing with expectations by making a comedy film with no jokes in it, but it wouldn't be a good idea. In the same way, making a Jason Statham film where the climax is built up to be... and then actually having it turn out to be... (spoilers removed, naturally) is going to disappoint a lot of the audience – and I should know, because I was one of them.

Nevertheless, Safe is still a quality vehicle for Mr Statham. Even if he never quite gets one of the moments of magnificent lunacy which have punctuated his career (here I'm thinking of the like of the oily brawl from The Transporter, the shotgun-up-the-bum moment from Crank: High Voltage or the tied-to-a-chair fight from Killer Elite), he is as immaculate as ever throughout the well-mounted action sequences, and the rest of the time he gives a genuinely respectable performance. His relationship with Catherine Chan is engaging, and I was sorry this wasn't developed more.

So, I can't honestly recommend Safe as an absolute highlight of the Jason Statham canon (should you be interested, I would say that The Transporter remains the quintessential text, though Crank and Killer Elite are not without their strong points), but it is a solid action movie that gives you everything you expect from a film of this genre. It's only the occasional signs that this could've been something rather special which, perversely, make it feel a tiny bit disappointing.

I am aware and slightly concerned that I may have come across as rather ironical and condescending towards Mr Statham, even as I've attempted to illuminate you as to his virtues. I really don't mean to: I genuinely enjoy the charisma and energy he brings to all of his roles, and I will happily go to see any film he stars in simply because of his presence in it. He is a proper movie star, and very good at his job. Even if you don't go and see Safe, I hope you will check out one of his other pictures.

best wishes,


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