A Long Overdue Tribute To Jason Statham’s Performance In ‘Spy’

20th Century Fox

There are some things everyone should know. Everyone should know basic first aid, for one, because life is unpredictable and the human body is more fragile than we like to think. Everyone should also know how to prepare at least two or three simple meals, not just grilled cheese or scrambled eggs — real meals, because you’re a grownup now, come on, at least learn how to make shrimp scampi or something. And, perhaps most importantly, everyone should know that Jason Statham gives a performance for the ages in the 2015 comedy Spy.

Have you seen Spy? I really hope you have. It came out multiple years ago and is on basic cable something like 40 times a week. You’d have to be actively avoiding it at this point. Why would you do that? Why would you deny yourself that joy? Spy is very good. Melissa McCarthy is very good in Spy as the mousy office agent who heads out into the glamorous world of fieldwork. Allison Janney and Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale are very good in Spy, too. Zach Woods shows up for about 90 seconds and gets his throat melted while he’s flipping the bird (which is a pretty efficient appearance, all things considered). It’s fun and funny and smart and all the things you need in a compulsively rewatchable movie.

None of that is the point, though, really. The point of this particular discussion is Jason Statham. He plays a character named Rick Ford who is very intense and somewhat bumbling and basically a knowing wink at the types of characters Jason Statham plays in a gaggle of straightforward action movies, your various Cranks and Transporters and Mechanics. On paper, none of it is breaking new ground. Action stars have played winking parodies of themselves forever. Tom Cruise did an entire movie, Knight & Day, that could be accurately described as “tongue-in-cheek Mission: Impossible.” The thing that makes Statham’s performance so great, however, is the commitment. He leans in so far you start to worry he’ll tip over. It’s incredible.

Examples will help. Let’s do some examples. Here’s his first big appearance in the movie, in a scene that takes place at the agency’s headquarters not long after the suspected death of another agent, played by Jude Law. You’ll want your headphones in if you’re at work or a coffee shop or any place where people might frown on Jason Statham saying swear words rather loudly.

It’s important for journalists to disclose potential biases and conflicts, so let me begin by saying that I was obviously going to be in the tank for any scene in which Jason Statham says, “Here’s what we do… I go into the Face/Off machine, get a whole new face.” It combines two of my favorite things: Jason Statham and any movie about John Travolta and Nicolas Cage swapping faces. But even with that said, this is just about perfect. Look at the commitment. Look at him selling those lines. Comedy Statham is a damn revelation.

Also, please note the thing at the 0:20 mark where he rubs his chin and a loud scratching sound is dubbed in. That’s not so much Statham as it is some genius in the editing process — let’s just assume it’s writer and director Paul Feig — deciding to add depth to the over-the-top gruff character by implying his stubble has the consistency of sandpaper, but it’s really funny either way. Like, naturally, Jason Statham’s whiskers are made of steel wool. This should be canon in all of his films.

So that’s one example. Here’s another. This is him popping up and surprising Melissa McCarthy on the mission, which he is very much not supposed to be a part of but is inserting himself into for reasons he will explain. Kind of. For reasons he will kind of explain.

This scene is great for the obvious reason: hearing Jason Statham say things like “I jumped from a high-rise building using only a raincoat as a parachute and broke both legs upon landing. I still had to pretend I was in a fucking Cirque du Soleil show.” That’s just fun. But it’s also great because… well, have you seen his other movies? The list of hilariously extreme things his character in Spy claims to do is barely more extreme than things his other characters have really done.

Case in point: In Mechanic: Resurrection, he fights off a dozen goons at a restaurant and then escapes their firearm-toting boss by leaping off the roof of a gondola and onto the top of a passing hang glider. I feel like words are not doing this justice. Here, look at this.

Summit Entertainment

That’s a lot. It’s not even the wildest thing he’s done in one of his movies. It’s just the first one that popped into my head after I heard him say the thing about parachuting with a raincoat. And it’s even better because Mechanic: Resurrection came out in 2016, after Spy, which means Jason Statham delivered these lines and then leaped from a gondola to a hang glider a few months later. What a champion. Bless him and his rugged good looks and willingness to poke fun at himself for things he’s just going to continue doing because the brand remains the brand, thank you very much.

One last example. At the very end of the movie, after the bad guys have been vanquished and the twists have untwisted themselves, when everyone is standing around and rehashing the events of the past few days, Jason Statham shows up in a suit he was not wearing as recently as a few minutes earlier. It leads to this exchange, which made me laugh as hard as any joke in any comedy of the last five years or so.

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

That’s… that’s beautiful. It’s so aggressive and dismissive, as though he’s upset that she’s surprised he has a suit now. And the phrasing. Try using it using the next time someone asks you where you got a shirt you’re wearing. Have some fun.

It raises so many questions, too. Is he implying he made the suit earlier and brought it with him? Is he implying he made the suit just then, in the few minutes between the final confrontation and this conversation? Where did he get the materials? How did he do it so fast? How much would you pay to see Jason Statham sewing together a suit? Admittedly, the answer to all of these questions is “Leave it alone, it’s not important,” except for the last question, whose answer is “I don’t know but what if Jason Statham had starred in Phantom Thread instead of Daniel Day-Lewis?”

It gives us a lot to think about. A great performance will do that.