Jason Statham returns to cinemas with his latest action flick, Parker. Duncan sees how it measures up...
Writer Donald E Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark) wrote 16 novels based around his character, Parker, though bringing successful versions of those books to the big screen over the decades has proved more than a little problematic.
Back in 1967 the John Boorman and Lee Marvin version of The Hunter, Point Blank, failed to make an impact at the box office, though later found critical success, while the Mel Gibson and Brian Helgeland adaptation of the same novel (called Payback) resulted in two completely different cuts after the star and director fell out over direction and tone. Sadly for 2013’s Parker, there appears to be a similar discrepancy in tone resulting in a fun but wholly uneven heist caper.
Parker is based on Westlake’s book Flashfire, and centres around the eponymous character (renamed in both Point Blank and Payback, coincidentally) after a robbery results in complications and he’s shot and left for dead by his accomplices, only to survive and hunt down the men responsible to get his cut of the loot. At its core the plot is quite similar to that of The Hunter, hence the confusion (at one point Parker even utters the line “It’s the principal” when offered a larger pay off to stop his quest), but they play out quite differently.
The film starts with a relatively low-key robbery, more dependent on humour than thrills, as the mighty Jason Statham first appears dressed fully in priest garb, which is thankfully played for laughs as he reassures a panicked security guard. Statham’s version of Parker is set up as a cool, calm Robin Hood type, rather than a selfish crook, which works to the film's advantage as we root for him from start to finish, regardless of his profession. When the shit does hit the fan though, the more traditional Statham bubbles straight to the surface as the simple plan to shoot him massively backfires, and some great close quarter face breaking comes into play.
Parker pulls no punches on the violence front from the start, as gunshots and fists fly and the character is left in bloody tatters in a ditch, only to make a steady recovery and exact an even bloodier revenge. So far, so good, so Statham, and it’s the action outbursts accompanied by the wry humour and one-liners that carry the bulk of the film on the broad shoulders of its star, with highlights including a hospital break using a tracheotomy patient, some cracking and comically over-the-top Bourne-style action thrills and, of course, his marvellous Texan accent.
But then there’s the second act. If I had one pre-emptive fear for Parker, it was that Jennifer Lopez might have an adverse effect on the tone and perhaps even the script, and it seems as if that fear was justified. Don’t get me wrong, I think she’s great in Out Of Sight, U Turn and even Anaconda, but those movies were made a relatively long time ago, so I’d hoped that by starring in a Jason Statham film she was making a concerted effort to return to a grittier, sassier style of performance. But sadly that’s not the case.
Lopez spends her part of the movie (which mercifully she doesn’t appear in at all for the first act) acting like she’s in a different picture, emanating all the gravitas required for Maid In Manhattan and making no attempt to adjust. It speaks volumes that watching her play a poor divorcee merely brings back the nauseating taste of the ill-judged ‘Jenny from the Block’, which approximately no one bought into. Her character seems utterly superfluous to the plot, spending most of the time either whining, or showing Statham houses, and in a moment of unintentional hilarity, even seems to spout out lines of stage direction: “I won’t let him mess this up,” she mutters to herself, for no apparent reason.
It may seem harsh, but she’s utterly pointless throughout; even any potential as a love interest is squashed, as we know that Parker has a girlfriend he’s clearly devoted to. Lopez’s role seems bolstered just to give her more screen time due to the cache her name brings, but the sheer annoyance of her character makes her the geek equivalent of Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd.
What becomes apparent though, as the film loses its momentum, is how effortlessly Jason Statham keeps the film afloat, with his normally gruff charm loosening to reveal a laid back, effortless charisma that make even the most ridiculous scenes watchable. I should also add that the film features gratuitous, un-subtitled Nick Nolte in a role not dissimilar to Donald Sutherland’s in The Mechanic, though obviously more mumbly.
Despite my gripes about Lopez stitching her rom-com persona into an action thriller, I do understand the logic – it’s by far Statham’s most commercially viable movie to date, with the involvement of J-Lo bringing in a younger audience who are more familiar with her music and the likes of Monster-In-Law (a quick poll of some students revealed their knowledge of her work, while remaining confused as to who Statham was - an issue I’ve since corrected). So, being supporters of his work here at Geek Towers, my hope is that Parker at least broadens his audience, as the gripes I had with it won’t affect a less action-centred crowd.
There’s a lot to like in Parker, with the laughs and action working well for the most part, as well as the added bonus of watching an (all too brief) showdown between Statham and Michael Chiklis and a superbly brutal apartment fight that features Stath demonstrating why it’s folly to attack him with a knife, but the overly bloated and Lopez-centric middle act and rather unnecessary multiple endings stop Parker from being the tight thriller it so easily could have been with a few choice cuts.
Parker's out in UK cinemas on the 8th March.
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