Tim Walker: Statham’s Death Race: it’s Fast and Furious, but in prison – in the future

The Couch Surfer

Related Topics

In coverage of Phil Spector’s recent murder trial, his victim Lana Clarkson was routinely described as a “B movie actress”. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered what it meant.

Was it some euphemism for soft porn, employed to spare the blushes of the poor woman’s family? Would Clarkson be immortalised forever in the small print of the late night TV listings? No, actually: it turns out you’re more likely to find her work on Film 4 than on Men and Motors.

She was, in fact, a favourite muse of B movie maestro Roger Corman, appearing in his 1983 film, Deathstalker, and later taking the title role in Barbarian Queen.

Corman, now 83, is among the last of the true B moviemakers, budgetarily challenged yet critically acclaimed. Like the B-side of a seven-inch single, the B movie was traditionally the more hastily, cheaply produced half of a cinematic double-bill. Later, “B” simply meant a movie that went straight-to-video, and possibly starred Eric Roberts. Plenty of A-list directors were inspired by their B movie predecessors, Quentin Tarantino and JJ Abrams being two glaring modern examples.

B movies helped lay the formal foundations of the Western, of horror, of sci-fi, of the action thriller. They were fun unpretentious, and a place for young actors or directors – Jack Nicholson and Jonathan Demme among them – to learn their trade away from the spotlight.

Nowadays, though, the term has come to denote a vague, generic filmmaking sensibility, rather than an identifiable sector of the industry. A low budget has become a badge of honour, so we instead ascribe the nominal “B” rating to a film that’s full of expensive explosions and/or blood, but which somehow falls outside the blockbuster category: the sort of thing frequented by the sort of people who go to the movies every weekend, but never read movie reviews – and there are plenty of them. Two of last week’s top five films at the UK box office were what we might today call B movies: Fast and Furious and Crank: High Voltage, starring two of the world’s biggest B-list, alpha male stars, Vin Diesel and Jason Statham. Both had whopping budgets and high production values. Fast and Furious has clocked up $282m at the box office; Statham’s last film, Transporter 3, made $101m. Those are serious numbers, yet the films seem, for the most part, to be absent from the mainstream |Hollywood conversation.

Fast and Furious is the third sequel to the confusingly similar (in title and plot) The Fast and The Furious, about a cop who infiltrates a gang of drag racers, who are also armed robbers. It’s Point Break, but with cars. Crank: High Voltage is the sequel to Crank, about a man who needs to keep his adrenaline pumping at an absurdly high rate (and thus must blow lots of stuff up and have regular, alfresco sex), otherwise his heart will stop and he’ll die.

It’s Speed, but with a bloke. Martin Scorsese, a formidable film scholar, maintains that the most interesting work in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s was made by B movie directors, who were forced to innovate by economic necessity, and allowed free rein thanks to the low financial risk involved. I doubt he’d argue the same of the Diesel or Statham oeuvres, even if Statham’s Death Race (Fast and Furious but in prison, in the future) was a remake of the Corman-produced Death Race 2000 from 1975.

And yet, and yet. Diesel and Statham are masters of their art. It takes talent to deliver lines such as “if you’re gonna ask someone to save the world, you’d better make sure they like it the way it is.” (Diesel, xXx) or “Do I look like a man who came halfway across Europe to die on a bridge?” (Statham, Transporter 3) and keep a straight face. And these guys always have straight faces. Always. It’s basically the only face they do.

Controversial critic Armond White, from the American freesheet New York Press, said of Transporter 3: “It’s been a long time since a new movie has been so spiritually and aesthetically exhilarating.” (he also called Slumdog Millionaire a “TV-slick fraud”, and Wall-E “ugly”).

I’m not sure I can agree with that, but the action scenes certainly kick ass. So do the car chases. If it’s late, and you’re tired, then it doesn’t require you to process any of the existential angst that comes with the Bourne trilogy. But if you do need a big question to wrestle with, then Statham caters for that, too. What, for example, does a man who came halfway across Europe to die on a bridge actually look like?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page


In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine