Jason Statham and the Lock, Stock Gang
It was a dirty dozen years ago: I was working for Time Out magazine and a publicist wanted me to preview a low budget British gangster film made by a first-time filmmaker. This was at a time when low budget British gangster films were ten-a-penny – and almost all dreadful. There was no reason to think this one would by any better, it featured a few familiar faces, a handful of actors who had been kicking around for a couple of years (Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nicholas Rowe, Steven Mackintosh) mixed up with a handful of authentic East End hardmen, but nothing to get excited about. The One thing it did have going for it was Tom Cruise.
Not that Cruise was in it, of course. But for some reason he had seen it (I think he was hanging around London shooting endless retakes for Stanley Kubrick at the time) and he loved it. His quote, “This film rocks!” was enough of an endorsement to persuade me to check it out, and while Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was never going to make my all-time top ten list, I could see what he meant. Four or five weeks later, the film graced the cover of our august publication and opened to spectacular business in the UK and elsewhere. It was the biggest thing since Mr Bean, and it put writer-director Guy Ritchie and his producing partner Matthew Vaughn firmly on Hollywood’s radar.
As we know, those guys have had plenty of ups and downs since then. Their next project, Snatch, added Brad Pitt to the mix and won them new fans across the Atlantic. Mr Ritchie became Mr Madonna, and went on to make two of the most reviled flops of the decade, Swept Away and Revolver, before bouncing back with Rock N Rolla and Sherlock Holmes.
Vaughn (real name Matthew De Vere Drummond), severed his partnership with the director after Swept Away, and picked up the megaphone himself with the well-received Layer Cake, and then went Hollywood with the cheeky fairytale Stardust and the wickedly entertaining Kick-Ass, both of which he cowrote with Jane Goldman. Both movies under-performed at the US box office but found plenty of fans over here. He also found time to produce Harry Brown, the forthcoming Nazi-hunter thriller The Debt, and to wed supermodel Claudia Schiffer. Now at last he has a sure-fire hit on his hands with the mega-budget X-Men: First Class.
But what about the on-screen talent? Of the four likely lads who were the ostensible heroes of the piece, Nick Moran’s card sharp Eddy was probably the closest thing to a leading man. And Moran did get a bit of a post Lock, Stock bump. Unfortunately, the starring roles were in mediocre movies that by and large went unseen: things called The Proposal, Another Life, and New Blood. He made one genuinely note-worthy film, Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, but nobody saw that either. Except for Moran’s supporting part as Scabior in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, he’s almost completely slipped from view.
Although he’s cropped up in smallish roles in Matthew Vaughn’s films, Dexter Fletcher (Soap) has generally found greater success on the small screen, in Band Of Brothers, The Virgin Queen, and more recently Hotel Babylon. I think it’s fair to say that Lock, Stock didn’t do much for his career, pro or con.
Jason Flemyng is another Vaughn favourite, turning up in Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass and the new X-Men: First Class – but he also played Benjamin Button’s dad, Calibos in the Clash of the Titans remake, and Sebastian in Hanna. A decent cv for a solid character actor.
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest winners in the Lock, Stock lottery were both newcomers – not just to the movies, but to acting. Vinnie Jones (Big Chris), as we all know, was football’s hard man, and best known to non-Watford fans for the famous photo of him grabbing Paul Gascoigne’s testicles. While established actors like Steven Mackintosh and Nicholas Rowe struggled to get work in America, Jones was almost immediately mixing it up with stars like Nic Cage (Gone in Sixty Seconds), John Travolta (Swordfish) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men: The Last Stand). A decade later, he has 50 credits listed on IMDb.
And then there is Jason Statham (Bacon) – a former diver on the British Olympics team and a performer whose experience stretched only as far as a modeling gig for French Connection, but whose subsequent career only goes to prove that there is always an audience for a hoarse, balding guy with a busted nose. Statham probably wouldn’t claim to be a versatile actor, but he is charismatic fellow who can embody an ordinary, working class, take-no-bullshit type, and he can do his own stunts. Unlike his costars, he gave the impression of maturity and self-possession – he was someone who had lived and knew how to take care of himself. After Lock, Stock Statham went mano-a-mano with Jet Li in The One, starred in Snatch, Mean Machine, and The Transporter, and stepped up a gear with Crank, Death Race and (his best acting gig) The Bank Job – not forgetting his latest, The Mechanic, which is released to DVD this week.
Statham may never reach the A-list status he craves, but he’s big enough to trade blows and quips with the other tough guys in The Expendables on an equal footing – in fact, after Stallone himself, Statham was top of the bill. If that reflects the relatively low status of action cinema these days, it’s still a step up from hustling merch from the back of a lorry, which may have been Statham’s fate if Lock, Stock had never happened.
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