Jason Statham Is So Good in ‘Spy’ Because He’s Insanely Campy

Jason Statham Is So Good in ‘Spy’ Because He’s Insanely Campy

Who knew Jason Statham was a secret comedic genius?
For the past twenty-five years, Jason Statham has been a leading figure in the action genre. His finely crafted image as a tough-as-nails badass who’s incapable of losing his cockney accent is one of the most recognizable screen personas in modern cinema, and when combined with an impressive back catalog that (a few exceptions notwithstanding) has seen him riding from one box office success to the next, it has reached the point that one only needs to see his name in the opening credits of a Hollywood blockbuster to immediately know what the next two hours of your life will look like. It’s a remarkable achievement, but given the absurd wavelength most of his filmography operates on, it has also made him an easy target for mockery. But Statham has never been one to back down from a challenge, and in Paul Feig’s 2015 action-comedy Spy, he surprised the world by announcing himself as a formidable comedic actor.

A Fantastic Line-Up of Comedic Performances (With Statham Chief Among Them)
While Paul Feig has never been subtle about what films he’s parodying, none wear their influences so firmly on their sleeve as Spy (it’s right there in the title, after all). Anyone who has so much as glanced at a James Bond or a Mission: Impossible film will find much of its content familiar, albeit with a decidedly different protagonist in the form of Melissa McCarthy’s mild-mannered Susan Cooper (back when her presence felt like a requirement for all major comedy films). Spy may not have matched the critical and commercial triumph that Feig attained with his 2011 classic Bridesmaids (a success that he’s spent the rest of his career desperately trying to replicate), but it’s clear that everyone involved was having the time of their lives during production, and this energy shines through in the final product.

But despite the entire cast giving some of the best performances of their career (with specific mention of Rose Byrne as the wonderfully monstrous antagonist Rayna Boyanov), it’s Statham who elicits the biggest laughs. He plays CIA agent Rick Ford, a character so overloaded with macho energy he often appears indistinguishable from a role you’d typically find Statham in…if it wasn’t for how utterly ridiculous he is. In case his name sounding like it’d been ripped from a cheesy 1980s action film wasn’t enough of a clue, Feig makes sure to overload Ford with every cliché such a character could possess, each cranked up with such intensity you’d be forgiven for thinking that Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel was on scriptwriting duties. The result? 180 pounds of walking, talking stereotype that’s impossible to take seriously, all enhanced by the presence of Statham who elevates Ford from an overdone caricature to the realm of comedic genius. So, the best possible result, then.
Statham at His Most Over-the-Top

Before continuing, it’s worth establishing the one crucial ingredient that differentiates Statham from the legion of gun-toting action hardmen he often finds himself competing against – his willingness to embrace the outlandish. For example, it’s impossible to take a film like Crank seriously, but Statham is keenly aware of this, throwing himself headfirst into the insanity with a completely straight-faced performance that avoids the temptation of self-deprecating humor or fourth-wall-breaking jokes. The latter point is the most important of all, and remains the key reason why Statham’s career has enjoyed such longevity. It takes a tremendous amount of fortitude to avoid giving away that you’re in on the joke even while being asked to treat the most ludicrous of subject matter with sincerity, but it’s this delicate balance of tongue-in-cheek antics and genuine earnestness that makes his films so entertaining. And it’s exactly this mindset that makes Rick Ford such a pleasure to watch.
As far as introductory scenes go, it’s hard to think how Ford’s could have been any more perfect. We first encounter him during a meeting at the CIA’s headquarters following the revelation that his identity has been leaked to Boyanov, thus preventing his participation in any subsequent assignments related to her. Upon being confronted with this information, Ford asks (without a hint of irony) to be put in the Face/Off machine – at which point his suave James Bond-esque persona crumbles to dust under the weight of his own clueless stupidity. It’s Statham’s delivery that sells it. When he talks about the Face/Off machine, he does so with such unwavering passion it’s like the existence of such fantastical technology is a stone-cold fact, and his refusal to accept defeat even after realizing he’s the butt of the joke gives the impression that he only storms out of the meeting, so he can invent the damn thing himself and save face (off). His tremendous East End accent that sees Statham enunciating each word (specifically the myriad of swears) like his life depends on it is the icing atop the cake.

In just one scene, Statham silences any naysayers who believed that his deadpan style of acting was ill-suited to comedy, but he doesn’t stop there. Every scene involving Ford is a full-course meal in madness, and watching him continually destroy his reputation becomes a joy to behold. Following Cooper’s reassignment from deskwork to fieldwork, Ford tracks her to a café in Paris in a disguise that no sane person would deem covert: a checkered flat cap, a beige trench coat, a Louis Vuitton backpack…not the worst fashion taste, but you’d think such a self-described master of espionage would realize that absolutely no one else is wearing such a getup. This lack of self-awareness is so persistent that Ford takes on an almost endearing quality, and his repeated blunders do nothing to quell his commitment to catching the bad guys and saving the world makes him an easy underdog to root for. Despite his smug demeanor, he’s still unequivocally a force for good (something even Cooper accepts after a certain point), ensuring that he doesn’t fall into the trappings of being a one-joke character.
Spy Feels Like a Major Point in Statham’s Career
Undoubtedly Ford’s greatest moment is his speech after he breaks into Cooper’s hotel room – a monologue of Shakespearian proportions intended to prove his credentials as a CIA operative… at least until it starts growing more ridiculous by the second. It’s no easy task having to convincingly deliver a line like “I’ve jumped from a high-rise building using only a raincoat as a parachute and broke both legs upon landing, and I still had to pretend I was in a fucking Cirque du Soleil show,” but hearing Statham do with a level of devotion one typically saves for Hamlet or Macbeth catapults the sequence from mildly amusing to eye-wateringly hilarious. There’s a level of truthfulness to his performance that a traditional comedic actor would never be able to replicate – a feeling strengthened by many of his anecdotes being indistinguishable from stuff in his other films. By the time Ford concludes his speech (sauntering out of the room like he didn’t just spend hours sitting in the dark waiting for Cooper to get back), he and Statham are one and the same – good thing they suit each other so well.
It’s been eight years since the release of Spy – plenty of time to consider what a delicate balancing act Rick Ford was. Airlift him into the latest straight-to-VOD action film where he’s the only sane person in a crazy world, and he becomes wholly unremarkable, but tinker with his plausibility settings just a tad and then place him in a world where the joke is on him, and suddenly he transforms into one of the most memorable comedic heroes of the past decade. It never stops being fascinating how such comparatively minor tweaks can radically alter our perspective on someone, and all the credit in the world must go to Feig for envisioning such a creation. But it’s Statham who seals the deal, turning in a satirical performance for the ages that demonstrates why he could easily have a second career in comedy should he want it (no wonder his more “serious” films have been skewing more and more comedic as of late). It’s rare to see an actor so openly mocking the persona they’ve built their career on, but Statham does it with such good-natured glee that Spy ends up serving as the perfect reminder of why we love him in the first place.

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