The action stars who tried to be taken seriously

But were their efforts in vain?

The movie business is full of serious actors who became action heroes – if Russell Crowe can be a gladiator, anyone can – but making the transition the other way, from action hero to serious actor, is much trickier. Jason Statham does his level best to prove his acting chops this week in 'Hummingbird', a movie with significantly less ass-whomping and neck-punching than he's used to. With visions of The Stath accepting ALL the Oscars, we look at the tough guys who tried to get serious, and ask if anyone bought it.


Statham gives a rare show of emotion in Hummingbird (Credit: Lionsgate)
Jason Statham in Hummingbird (2013)
The role: Trading on his movie hardnut persona, Statham plays ex-special forces soldier Joe, who's homeless and on the run dodging a military court martial. It's a part that requires him to look like he could snap your knees off, but Joe is actually a gentle soul who becomes the Robin Hood of Soho after assuming a rich man's identity. Also he hangs out with a nun so you know he's kosher.
Did it work? The jury is out as far as critical analysis goes, but the trailer for 'Hummingbird' does tend to focus on the punchy bits (of which there are few) in order to sell it. What's more, the movie's poster features quotes from two vastly different sources – Nuts magazine and Reader's Digest – which does suggest the makers aren't quite sure who to market it towards.

Sly received some of the best reviews of his career for Cop Land (Credit: Miramax)
Sylvester Stallone in Cop Land (1997)
The role: With the failure of 'Judge Dredd' still ringing in his ears, Stallone gave bicep-flexing and lip-gurning a break in James Mangold's classy cop thriller. As partially-deaf small-town sheriff Freddy Heflin, Sly's hero uncovered corruption and crime but this time resisted the urge to punch the crooks through windows before making witty, contextual quips.
Did it work? It did: Stallone received some of the best reviews of his career, and he held his own opposite the likes of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta (back when that was actually something to be proud of).

Junior from doomed to fail from the start (Credit: Universal)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Junior (1994)
The role: Arnie has always played to his strengths – those strengths being the rather obvious bulging muscles beneath his puny clothes. However, even a bona fide action hero needs a change sometimes, hence this comedy drama in which Schwarzenegger becomes the world's first pregnant man – a role that required considerably more emotional range than "Hyagh!"
Did it work? Are you actually asking if the 'pregnant Arnie' movie worked? We'll assume you didn't see it. Or that you're lying about having seen it. Which is understandable. It's no coincidence Arnie's next movie was explosive action epic 'Eraser', which literally saw him beat up a crocodile. GRRR!


JCVD was the Muscles at his most raw (Credit: Gaumont)
Van Damme in JCVD (2008)
The role:
Not for the first time, Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in a film where he was his own worst enemy – although this time he didn't have to fight one of his evil twins. No, 'JCVD' sees Van Damme play a slightly moodier version of himself, unhappy with his life's work and in a reflective mood when caught up in a bank robbery hostage situation.
Did it work? Against all odds, Van Damme proved that his abilities weren't limited to doing the splits and performing roundhouse kicks. 'JCVD' is an oddity for sure, but Van Damme is a revelation – brutally honest about his career and displaying a rawness he hadn't showed before (and sadly hasn't since).

The Rock was very un-Rock-like in Snitch (Credit: Summit)
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in Snitch (2013)
The role: The man they call 'Franchise Viagra' made a detour from being fast and furious to star in 'Snitch', playing a father forced to go undercover in the DEA to free his son. Despite a poster that boasts AN EXPLODING TRUCK, Johnson's role features precious little vehicular warfare and is instead The Rock's least Rock-like role to date. He's just an ordinary guy trying to save his family. Correction: an ordinary 7-foot, built-like-a-brick-s**thouse guy trying to save his family.
Did it work? Not really. 'Snitch' turned a small profit in the US but compared to the box-office behemoths that were 'Fast & Furious 6' and 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation', it'll probably be best remembered as that movie where The Rock doesn't suplex anyone. For shame.

Find Me Guilty was a reminder of Diesel's more serious early days (Credit: Freestyle)
Vin Diesel in Find Me Guilty (2006)
The role:
After making a name for himself in not one but three action franchises – 'The Fast And The Furious', 'xXx' and the Riddick series – Vin Diesel turned his back on all of them (albeit briefly). Why? To forge a proper acting career, starting with the lead role in Sidney Lumet's courtroom comedy drama, about a mobster who chose to defend himself. Also because 'The Chronicles Of Riddick' was slaughtered. But mostly the Sidney Lumet thing.
Did it work? Diesel is excellent as Jack DiNorscio, a welcome reminder that he started out a 'serious' actor in the likes of 'Saving Private Ryan', 'Boiler Room' and 'Strays' before he was sucked into a world of carburettors.