Other movie stars get into the profession for the fame, the money, the girls. Jason Statham just wants to be The Catcher in the Rye.
In film after film, going back as far as “The Transporter,” he’s played characters out to save a damsel in distress, out to rescue some woman in need of rescuing.
That’s the set-up in his latest, “Redemption.” But it’s more than that. And the fact that this isn’t the only sort of character he’s played, that he makes even relatively routine actioners like this one interesting is why it ‘s never been fair to compare him to muscleheads like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Seagal. He’s better than that.
Something happened to Sgt. Joseph Smith over in Afghanistan, something glimpsed in flashbacks partly shown as drone surveillance video. He deserted, went underground. And now he’s homeless, a haunted vet on the mean surveillance-camera-covered streets of London, drinking to forget.
Isabel (Victoria Bewick) is his companion, a teenager. Until, that is, a couple of hoodlums who prey on the homeless rob him and snatch her. He aims to get her back.
“We shared a box. We just kept each other warm.”
Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek) runs the soup kitchen where he eats on those nights when he’s sober. She’s his comfort and his confessor. When he crashes into a posh apartment and realizes the owner won’t be back for months, she is who he tells.
“You know, the boys say you’re an angel.”
Joe lays low and heals up, puts on the apartment owner’s clothes and drives his Mercedes. He takes a job, first as a dishwasher/bouncer, promoted to enforcer for the Chinese gangster (Benedict Wong) who owns the place. Sister Cristina ponders her dilemma, this damaged soul who tempts her to break her vows.
You have to make a lot of allowances for a film like this, the neat little coincidences that allow Joe to A) earn cash he can spread among the homeless, B) track Isabel and C) announce he’s Catholic and must keep his distance, but still lust after Sister Cristina. You have to think he’s a good bloke even after we find out he’s left behind a family, even after we learn his Afghan secret.
Writer-director Steven Knight plays moral relativism games with this tale, from start to finish. The nun accepts money from Joe, but is tormented over spending it on ballet tickets. Joe steals from the unseen owner of his flat, but the enforcer work allows him to pay the fellow back.
Statham, as always, keeps things interesting. He doesn’t speak for the film’s first fifteen minutes, and when he does, he doesn’t make speeches. He endures his usual beat-downs, which we endure with him because we know at some point, he’s going to take out the trash.
The script loses track of the main thread, but allows awkwardly charming scenes between nun and enforcer. She urges him to live a better life, he sets up a barbecue grill on the street.
“You used to feed me. Tonight I feed you.”
And even the brawls — which are righteously savage — have their comic touches. One diminutive brute is known for his switchblade. Joe answers with his own utensil.
“You tell me what happened to her, or I’m going to kill you with this spoon.”
The more correct title would have been “Retribution,” which could work for any number of Statham vehicles over the years. But “Redemption” is just different enough to make us remember “The Bank Job” or “Killer Elite” or that he’s about to give those fun-but-silly “Fast & Furious” movies a proper villain.
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, graphic nudity and language
Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Benedict Wong,Victoria Bewick
Credits: Written and directed by Steven Knight. A Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate release
Running time: 1:40