Watching the basically unreleased stateside UK film Blitz, it dawned on me that the lone candidate successfully filling this void in the last decade is Jason Statham. (You could count Jackie Chan and Jet Li too but their sustained careers are stuck an alternate kung-fu niche).
Statham differs from the top-tier action stars in their heydays. He doesn't play superheroes or headline $100 million dollar budgets with action figures and rides at theme parks. His films are budgeted in the $20-$50 million dollar range and his action sequences are primarily in hand to hand combat with surrounding tools, not usually guns or knives but the lethal weapons on the ends on his arms.
Despite the fact that you know you are seeing slightly varied versions of the same stories, Statham films are more-than-watchable, even in some circumstances highly enjoyable. But I don't see a Oscar-winning-type serious role in his future.
For many, his breakthrough performance came in Guy Ritchie's debut and apex Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels. The film is an overlooked visual feast that is very influential and a bit ahead of its time visually in a lot of the recent action/caper flicks since it's release. (too bad it's all been downhill for Ritchie with the Lock Stock repetition that featured Brad Pitt in Snatch but most recently failing with the big budget could-have-been-excellent Sherlock Holmes.)
Maybe it's that deep voice with that threatening UK-drawl, a touch of humor with a smirk, but a boatload of beatings being doled out. You know what you are going to get but you still show up to the theater and stop on the flicks while surfing through the channels. Is there really a need for three Transporter films? Guess not. How about a remake of Death Race? Surely, no.
Statham has been involved in quite a few remakes as well. Roles that have been previously done well spill down to him to be Stathamized. See: The Bank Job, The Mechanic, and even Pink Panther (Until writing this I didn't even know there was a remake of the minimalist, thriller classic 13 (Tzameti) starring him and Mickey Rourke but I know what is about to be added to the Netflix queue.)
He further cemented his spot in the list by appearing with most of the faded stars listed up above in The Expendables, which took the action star combination alchemy theorem to a different stratosphere.
Statham delivers exactly what people expect. A dark, somber, bald protagonist with his facial scruff either in a suit or casual in non casual situations who delivers action, snark, and snarl, with a high probability of a car chase and some hand to hand combat.
If you are looking for something on the super-frenetic stylistic scale, there is a Crank or Crank 2. If you are looking for you standard hit-man with a penchant for vengeance, there is The Mechanic. For practically plotless stories with excellent fight scenes and fast cars flying and exploding, there is The Transporter.
Or just a semi-interesting cop chases serial killer film like Blitz which was has been recently added to Netflix Instant. (This one has an interesting cast including Aidan Gillen, AKA Mayor Tom Carcetti from The Wire & the devilish Baelish from Games of Thrones, who, against usually the refined HBO typecasting, stands out as a deranged cop killer who refuses to wear a shirt.) With Jason Statham films, it's just different variations of vanilla ice cream. But what's wrong with vanilla ice cream?
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