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This photo could be from any Jason Statham movie, but it's from "Wrath of Man."

Sometimes in life, you just want to see Jason Statham shooting people. My last few movie reviews have required me to be quite serious and conscientious indeed, but Statham’s new movie Wrath of Man promises the comforts of the time before this global plague, when you could watch his shoot-em-up action features in relative security. He’s also reunited with Guy Ritchie, the director whose star rose in tandem with his in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. How I wish I could report that this film had the same sense of fun as those. Alas, it’s too grim for that.

Statham plays Patrick Hill, who quickly acquires the nickname “H” when he takes a new job as a security guard for an armored truck company that ferries cash around L.A. The first clue that he’s not just another working stiff comes the first time that armed robbers hold up his truck: H breaks protocol and follows the thieves’ instructions until he leaps out of the truck and dispatches six of them with seven bullets. A flashback reveals that months earlier, he drove into a cash truck robbery and saw the thieves shoot his teenage son (Eli Brown), who was visiting him from the U.K. Now H is looking for that same crew to hit his truck so he can take revenge on his son’s murderer.

This is a remake of Nicolas Boukhrief’s 2004 French thriller Cash Truck, which I haven’t seen. I’m guessing the original is responsible for the script’s ingenious flashback structure, which fills in missing information such as that H was not precisely an innocent bystander in the job that resulted in his son’s death. Furthermore, the flashbacks are told from the different perspectives of a group of mobsters and the perpetrators of that robbery. I’m troubled and confused by the hero being aided by a ring of FBI agents whose tactics are even more brutal than the criminals’. The movie could have done without this, just as it could have done without Christopher Benstead’s bombastic score and Ritchie’s Biblical symbolism. The obvious comparison is Michael Mann’s Heat — the less obvious one is Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey, which is also about an Englishman in L.A. trying to avenge a murdered child. Even with a nifty one-take opening shot (with two guards loading up their armored truck and driving out of the company yard before being jacked and blinded by a flash-bang), Ritchie’s movie loses both those comparisons.

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Wrath of Man might be best understood as the last of a trilogy of Statham thrillers along with The Bank Job and Killer Elite, nihilistic exercises where one crime leads to an all-encompassing maelstrom of violence and the best any character can hope for is to escape alive. Yet for all this film’s portentousness, it never quite reckons with the fact that H’s revenge quest results in the deaths of almost every character in the movie. It’s good that Statham is willing to take on such projects that aren’t so easy to sell, but he’s better when he’s allowed to exercise his sense of humor in Spy and Hobbs & Shaw and even the Expendables films. Yeah, it’s comforting to see Jason Statham back in action, all right. I just wish it had been more fun.

Wrath of Man
Starring Jason Statham. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Written by Guy Ritchie, Marn Davies, and Ivan Atkinson, based on Nicolas Boukhrief and Éric Besnard’s screenplay. Rated R.

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