Photo: Kevork Djansezian (Getty Images)

Over at Deadspin, writer Ed Zitron has offered up a reassessment of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s 2009 flop Gamer. Zitron finds it to be, not unlike the duo’s beloved (?) Crank films, exactly the sort of audacious, oft-brilliant mess you’d expect from its rollerblading creators . Tucked into his piece, though, is a truly strange piece of casting trivia: Chev Chelios, the lunatic played by Jason Statham in Crank and its riotous sequel, was nearly played by Chris Rock.

According to Neveldine, Crank was written in 2003 with Jackass star Johnny Knoxville in mind. Knoxville makes sense for the role, given the outlandish physical requirements of the job—a hitman must keep his adrenaline flowing by any means necessary—but when agency William Morris Independent got involved the offer went instead to Brad Pitt (!), who liked the script but passed. Gamer’s Gerard Butler also turned it down, leading Lakeshore Entertainment to suggest “this guy who was kind of getting hot from hosting, and doing some movies.” That guy, it turns out, was Rock, who was offered the role and also passed.

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Statham eventually took it, but reportedly told the directors that “he wasn’t funny.” That’s patently false, of course—it’s exactly his no-bullshit demeanor that makes both Crank films (and the Melissa McCarthy-starring Spy) work so well. One struggles to imagine any other actor who could provide the necessary balance between pissed-off and nonplussed that Statham brings to having one’s heart stolen by Chinese gangsters. Rock would instead spend that period starring in films like Madagascar and The Longest Yard, which was probably the right choice for him. Still, we can’t help but wonder what it would look like to see Chris Rock, ass out in a hospital gown, doing stunts on a stolen police motorcycle.

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