“Hobbs and Shaw” Begs the Question: “Will Anyone Ever Teach Jason Statham to Enunciate?”

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Jason Statham apparently is one of the world’s biggest action stars. Who am I to argue? I saw him in his very first feature, the highly entertaining Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), and I’ve apparently missed every other film he’s ever made, but not intentionally. I either had something in the oven or my BVDs were drying in the laundry room. I don’t feel bad, though; I doubt he’s ever read any of my reviews. We’re sort of even.

Happily, in his latest offering, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, Mr. Statham is not bad at all as long as he keeps his mouth shut. He’s a first-rate glarer. However, whenever he opens his yapper, you can only comprehend half the dialogue he’s spouting, but you quickly realize you’re not missing much because co-screenwriters Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious (2009)) and Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3 (2013)) have come up with lines that you often wish you hadn’t heard. For example, Statham’s co-star Dwayne Johnson has to voice with deep sadness: “Brother, you believe in machines. We believe in people.”

(from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Now, Mr. Statham, who was born in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, has what I believe is a Cockney accent. Michael Caine has one, too. Yet who can’t comprehend the latter? (Well, there were moments in Alfie.)

Now, just so you don’t think I’m meritless on this matter, please check out the quotes below googled in less than a minute.

Andy Klein’s review of Wild Card (Glendale News-Press): “Even harder to follow is Statham’s dialogue: between his accent and an affectation of mumbling, it’s easy to miss some important stuff.”

Keith Finch commenting on a Deadline article about the star’s future product, Viva La Madness: “I just hope Statham talks properly for a change, not all this phony Eastenders mumbling.”

Marge Gunderson sharing on BBC’s Kermode Uncut: “Statham is half muscle, half mumble, all pistol.”

“Statham is half muscle, half mumble, all pistol.”

There is, surprisingly, one character who’s more incoherent than Statham’s Shaw in the film, and that’s the unseen head villain who vocalizes through a computer. Possibly, because the sound effects are so booming and with the soundtrack’s tunes (e.g. Logic’s “100 Miles and Running) being equally assertive, director David (Deadpool 2) Leitch mangled his eardrums during the editing process and didn’t realize what could and what could not be heard distinctly. (Please note I was sitting next to a CBS News soundman who corroborated that Statham was giving Eliza Doolittle a run for her money.)

If Eliza Doolittle learned to speak “proper” English, can’t Statham? (AP)

Plotwise, this ninth entry in The Fast & Furious series, has rogue MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (the rather engaging Vanessa Kirby) infecting herself with a virus that will turn mankind’s innards to jelly. To destroy this dastardly biochemical weapon, Hobbs, “a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service (DDS)” is partnered with “lawless outcast Deckard Shaw, a former British military elite operative.” The pair, who detest each other, will have to capture Hattie, who is Luke’s sister, and extract the virus from her before it activates. However, the once-dead and now cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist” Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba) wants to get his hands on the weapon first so that half of the distasteful humans can be replaced with new, improved computerized versions. (Thanks heavens for production notes. Without them, what would critics do?)

They don’t raise the dead like they used to! Idris Elba as Brixton Lorr in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” directed by David Leitch. Photo Credit: Daniel Smith/Universal Pictures. ©2019 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

It’s, as you have guessed, a little Thanos, a little Terminator, with action scenes reminiscent of Mission Impossible’s, so much so you keep expecting Tom Cruise to pop up at every turn. He doesn’t but Kevin Hart does as Air Marshall Dinkley, and his shtick is entertaining for about two minutes. Sadly, he’s onscreen much longer. Helen Mirren is here, too, wasted as Queenie, the Shaws’s imprisoned mother. Ah, but then along comes Ryan Reynolds, as Locke, a CIA handler, who adds so much sublime energy, you wish his character had been paired up with Hobbs instead of you know who. (By all means, stay for the final credits.)

In the end, the overly long Hobbs and Shaw is highly enjoyable for a film of this sort that is not directed by Paul Greengrass (the Jason Bourne series). There are hundreds of bloodless killings, crashes, explosions, and a self-driving motorcycle, and it’s nice to see Idris Elba do whatever he does.

As for Mr. Statham, his performance can be best summarized with a line from Cool Hand Luke (1967): What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.”

Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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