Familiar ground for hard-man Statham


You can be a dedicated raw-food-vegan workout fiend and still give in to cravings that involve a bucket of deep-fried onion rings and Kirin lager by the tank. At this point, that’s probably what Jason Statham is to the global film industry: a bad, illogical, artery-hardening craving.

Among all the manicured, dyed and well-behaved crop of A-list performers, among the CGI effects that have rendered real physical action more or less obsolete and the ho-hum story lines that almost always include some lame subplot about the importance of family, Statham surfaces like some Paleolithic sea creature, and then catapults right into your face, smothering you with salty goo.

“Blitz” shows up Statham in all his fried oniony glory. At one point in the movie, he growls: “Do I look like the kind of guy who carries a pencil?” before downing a pint in one quick guzzle. The truth is, he looks like the kind of guy who has never seen a pencil in his life, and who hasn’t made eye contact with his bath towel in a couple weeks either.

Statham has carved out a career from playing just one person: himself. Whether he’s fuming in the corner of a lumpy sofa across from Brad Pitt in “Snatch,” or emptying gun barrels at a fleet of black Mercedes’ while making the occasional unfunny wisecrack in “The Transporter” series, Statham remains staunchly and absolutely undatable.

Other British actors of his generation (hello, Jude Law) may have gone on to red-carpet fame with roles in grand period pieces or heavy, psychological studies; Statham for his part, has kept it simple. Sure, he’s reported to have the house in Malibu and apparently he goes out with a British model 20 years younger than himself. But the 44-year-old former Olympic diver has taken a hatchet to a granite wall, carved out his own little niche, and hasn’t budged from it since. In short, Statham is a precise incarnation of what my English friend Ian said with typical self-deprecation about British men: “the missing link between apes and bikers.”

“Blitz” is a return to Statham’s cinematic roots and turf: the damp, dark criminal hinterlands of London. He plays Tom Brant, a cop who chooses to gouge the eyes of a suspect rather than waste time interrogating him. That’s Tom: pummel first, ask questions later. To curb Tom’s rather extreme tendencies, his boss orders him to team up with Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), who has a gentle manner, is open about his homosexuality and likes to chat about his personal life.

At first viewing these seem like things Tom would love to crush under the heel of his clunky boots, but surprisingly it doesn’t happen. Tom may be crass, but he’s not totally contemptible, and besides, the pair have a whole lot more to worry about than their partner’s sexual preference. A serial cop-killer who calls himself Blitz (“like in Blitzkrieg!” — echoing the 1940s retro tones of the visuals) is offing London policemen one by one in particularly gruesome ways, and Tom takes it upon himself to catch the maniac before Porter or anyone else. Tom is in it for the thrill of the hunt and a stark bloodlust for revenge.

This is the sort of emoting Statham does best; in another life, he could have been a wronged prisoner, languishing in a medieval dungeon before killing three guards by knocking his skull against theirs, and then escaping by swimming the English Channel.

“Blitz” would have benefited more from concentrating on the cop vs. killer tale — just watching Tom and Porter do their jobs provides all the fuel and adrenaline anyone will ever need. But rather than entrust the movie to pure testosterone, director Elliott Lester gets bogged down by subplot concerns, swerving through insubstantial back stories and semi-romantic exchanges that go nowhere.

Tom, for example, may or may not have a thing going with ex-addict-turned-cop-Elizabeth (Zawe Ashton); and Porter is knee-deep in unresolved personal problems. Typical of all Statham’s characters, Tom has no such issues and no hangups. Elizabeth seems to reach him, briefly but ineffectively, before he’s off and running after Blitz.

At which point, I must rectify my earlier statement about Statham. In another life, he was the Hound of the Baskervilles. In this one, Statham acts for England. And thank god for that.