We’ve all seen the trailers. We’ve all heard the story. A desperate situation. An impossible mission. No one can save us… except ONE MAN.
Ah yes, the One Man Movie. A hallmark of action films for… heck, I don’t know. A really long time, I guess. I have an odd fascination with One Man Movies, I’m not really sure why. There’s something endlessly appealing to me about the kind of frequently over-the-top story where something horrible happens and no one can do anything about it because no one is good enough or crazy enough… except ONE MAN.
Sorry, I’m getting a little carried away here. I keep hearing Movie-Trailer-Voice-Guy in my head. Take the trailer for space-prison movie Lockout, where the President’s daughter is being held hostage on a prison orbiting the earth and, as Movie-Trailer-Voice-Guy informs us, “There’s only ONE MAN who can get her out… Snow. He’s the best there is, but he’s a loose cannon.”
At this point in the trailer, about a minute in, I had already made up my mind that this was a movie I would most definitely be seeing. Lockout is a classic One Man Movie. Ridiculous setup, over-the-top protagonist, nonstop one-liners. Check, check, and check. Lockout has it all down.
This is what I love so much about One Man Movies. EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM IS RIDICULOUS. Take Lockout, for example. There’s a prison. In space. Which the President’s daughter just-so-happens to be on. When the bad guys break out and start killing everyone. Who better to save her than an over-the-top badass with one name? IT ALL MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. If Lockout doesn’t become a cult classic I’ll eat my hat. It’s the kind of movie where jokes are made about punch lines after someone gets punched in the face. I mean seriously, what’s not to love?
One of the original One Man Movies has to be 1985’s Commando, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This one already is a cult classic, and with good reason. It’s well-known as the cinematic milestone in which Ah-nuld kills around 85 henchmen in the span of about five minutes. Seriously, they just keep running out into the open like lemmings and getting shot or blown up. It’s 80’s action movie ridiculousness at its finest. Somewhere in the endless depths of the internet, I read a description of Commando as not just an 80’s action movie, but THE 80’s action movie. I agree.
It should be pretty obvious to anyone who read my post about assassin movies a couple months ago that I’m a big fan of Jason Statham. He kind of specializes in One Man Movies, and his latest film, Safe, is no exception. Statham plays an ex-cop, ex-cage fighter named Luke Wright (another trademark of One Man Movies is the monosyllabic names). He’s a crappy cage fighter, not because he’s bad at fighting (this IS Jason Statham, after all) but because the mob pays him to throw fights (I think).
He accidentally wins a fight he was supposed to lose, costing the mob a lot of money. They promptly kill his wife (or maybe it was his girlfriend, I’m not sure) and tell him that they’re not going to kill him too. But what they are going to do is follow him around and kill anyone he tries to have a relationship with. So anyone Luke tries to talk to beyond buying a hot dog or something (as one thickly-Russian accented bad guy puts it) is toast.
Luke becomes a hobo, wandering in and out of homeless shelters and considering suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. It is in the subway that he sees a young Chinese girl wandering around by herself, looking frightened. He then sees a bunch of bad-looking dudes who are clearly looking for something, or someone. One of these bad-looking dudes is one of the guys who killed his wife. Luke puts two-and-two together and figures that these guys are looking for the girl he saw earlier, and he springs into action.
Turns out that the girl, Mei, has a photographic memory, and the Chinese mafia is using her to remember everything about their various illicit money-making operations, since the leader of the Chinese mafia is old-fashioned and doesn’t like using computers, because computers leave a trail. He has recently made her memorize a very long number, the meaning of which is intentionally mysterious. It is clearly important however, since the Russian gangsters (who killed Luke’s wife) promptly kidnap her from the Chinese. She escapes, wanders into the subway station where Luke was thinking about killing himself, and the game is on.
I like this setup. It’s not as far-fetched as a space prison or as high-stakes as a skyscraper taken over by terrorists (Die Hard, obviously). But it’s something that could, theoretically, maybe, actually happen. So I guess that not every One Man Movie has to have a high-concept premise, although many of them do.
But Safe is definitely a One Man Movie. Both the Russians and the Chinese are after this little girl, the cops are all corrupt, and there is ONLY ONE MAN who can save her. The thing about Safe that makes it maybe a little far-fetched is that LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE PERSON OTHER THAN LUKE AND MEI WHO HAS ANY SORT OF ROLE IN THE MOVIE AT ALL IS EVIL.
Seriously. I mean sure, it kind of goes without saying that the gangsters are evil. But the cops are evil. The mayor is evil. Even the mayor’s aide is evil, for crying out loud. Safe is a One Man Movie almost literally, since there is ONLY ONE MAN who is not evil. Sorry I keep capitalizing ONLY ONE MAN, but I just can’t help myself.
The thing I have realized about One Man Movies is that they are satisfying. It’s always fun to root for the underdog, and One Man Movies are all about the underdogs. The odds are always heavily stacked against him, and yet he always manages to come out on top. Good guy wins, bad guy gets what’s coming to him. There’s certainly some cathartic wish-fulfillment going on with One Man Movies, and I for one have no problem with that. Given the state of the world these days, we could all use a little release.
I have decided to bestow upon Lockout, Safe, and Commando the soon-to-be coveted MAN MEDAL, which is what I will use henceforth to designate the manly films full of manly awesomeness that are well-worth searching out for my fellow action fans. So congratulations, Lockout, Safe, and Commando, you are the honorary first recipients of the MAN MEDAL. And yes, the words MAN MEDAL will always be capitalized. I did a lot of capitalizing in this post, sorry about that. I assure you I am not trying to yell at anyone.
More to come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.