Turn It Up was, I suppose, Jason Statham’s first mistake. Sure, there’s that Erasure video, with its hundred or so almost naked Staths writhing and bopping around in metallic body paint, but didn’t those three minutes help to set up Statham’s reputation for being an actor who doesn’t take himself too seriously? You could plot a line all the way from that Erasure video to Snatch to Crank to Spy without too much trouble. Plus, the guy was ripped. If you have a body like that and you aren’t covering it in body paint and dancing on Erasure videos then why are you even spending all that time in the gym? Use it or lose it, I say.
And, who wouldn’t want to be in an Erasure video. Erasure are great.
Turn It Up isn’t great. It is, judged by any system of evaluation, an underwhelming viewing experience. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film (and until last week I was one of you) it is the story of two guys, just trying to get by on the streets (one of whom is an aspiring rapper) and how they end up in the debt of a local drug dealer. Its main problem is that its star, Pras (from ‘being one of the Fugees’ and/or ‘noticing that Ghetto Superstar and Islands in the Stream have the same number of syllables’ fame) was miscast. He either wasn’t experienced enough for, or wasn’t interested enough in, leading a movie. I take no pleasure in being mean about someone who co-wrote Ready or Not (which is one of my favourite songs) but he spends a lot of the film just standing there, not doing anything. There’s no spark in his performance. There are other problems with the film: the script needed another go round, the gun fights are overblown and shot like they belong in an action movie instead of a crime drama, they put Jason Statham in a lemon shirt… but, look, it was Robert Adetuyi’s first film as director. It has a lot of the faults debut films have. And so what? The guy made a movie. What have we done lately, eh?
But what did I learn from watching Turn It Up, apart from don’t put Jason Statham in a lemon shirt? I learned something very important. I learned how not to introduce a meat slicer to a movie.
Are you familiar with Chekhov’s Gun?* It’s one of those ‘rules for writing’ that everyone loves quoting on the internet. Chekhov said, ‘If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired’. It’s solid advice but it’s worth remembering the opposite is also true. If in the first act you haven’t introduced a meat slicer, then in the following one you shouldn’t threaten to shove Ja Rule through it.’ I call this rule, Statham’s Slicer.
Turn It Up’s ‘Do you know I like steak, yeah, steak, I probably like it sliced thin or something, Billy, get my meat slicer, cause… I like thin steaks…’ scene is the first time Statham really struggled to get dialogue to work in a movie. It isn’t really his fault. The meat slicer motif comes from absolutely fucking nowhere. How hard would it have been to put his character’s office behind a butcher’s shop or a picture of his father’s deli on the wall, or, Jesus, anything really. Anything would be better than a scary mob boss threatening somebody who has stolen from him by clumsily introducing the fact he likes his steaks cut thinly. It doesn’t even make sense. They bring a slicer right into his office. Just wheel it in, shove Ja Rule’s face on it and start threatening him. I don’t want to state the obvious here but, you can’t just slice people in offices. The mess would be considerable. You are going to have to repaint the walls and the ceiling for a start. You’ll need a new carpet. You are going to have to call someone in to fish the bits of bone and gristle out of your photocopier, and that’s going to involve a fifty pound call-out charge before they even start. Heaven forbid if you’ve left a filing cabinet open or something. The whole idea is ridiculous. I mean, it’s just sloppy office management.
Plus, who likes thin steak? Nobody. It’s such a weird detail and so striking that even though Ja Rule’s character is facing his end you half expect him to ask his potential executioner how he’s planning on stopping the meat from drying out when he cooks it.
Thin salami would have made sense. Thin bacon? Maybe, and it would have been a bit of an easter egg, referencing Stath’s character in Lock, Stock. But thin steak? Nope. Nope nope nope. Just nope.
*I didn’t want to break up the flow of the paragraph but yeah, this was an intentional knob joke. Sorry.
So the thing I learned from watching Turn It Up is… think before you slice.
And my arbitrary score for Turn It Up is… five Stathams out of ten.