From the department of franchises nobody wanted comes yet another in the long, stale line of Parker adaptations, this time starring the gruff action-hero and master-scowler Jason Statham. Following on from 'Point Blank' with Lee Marvin (which was great), 'Payback' with Harrison Ford (which was balls), and a few other films that made no impression on the world, the new 'Parker' brings the 19th of Donald Westlake's series of novels, 'Flashfire', to the screen. And - hooray! - it's actually downright entertaining.
For those who aren't aware of Westlake's novels (and why should you be?), Parker is an extremely assiduous criminal who keeps very few ties, focussing solely on a lifestyle of efficiently executing crimes and never settling down. That might not sound particularly fun, and it isn't. Fortunately and predictably, Jason Statham plays the character nothing like that, instead substituting it for the same character he plays in every movie.
So Parker, the now gruff, scowling rogue with a deadpan sense of humour and a set of unwavering principles, starts the film with a new party of bandits - containing some well-known and loved talent, such as 'The Wire''s Wendell Pierce and 'Extract''s Clifton Collins Jr. They're a fairly two-dimensional bunch, but the duo do the job in their relatively short screentime through the film. The group pull off a fairground heist, but complications in splitting up the money result in Parker being shot and left for dead. Recuperating and deducing the group's next target, he follows them to Florida to exact his revenge.
It's not a groundbreaking plot but it does give room for Jennifer Lopez's downtrodden estate agent, Leslie, to breathe, in a character that provides a great counterpoint to the glamour of both the film's location and genre. She's not a traditional badass action babe, or a helpless bimbo, she's a woman leading a dead-end life and thoroughly aware of it.
There a scene where Leslie has to undress to prove she's not wearing a wire and given the nature of the film and the actress, you'd expect it to turn into some empowering or crudely erotic affair, but it remains awkward and sad. The decisions she makes are an attempt at empowering herself, but it's a morally complicated character arc and director Taylor Hackford doesn't settle for easy resolutions. Unless I'm completely over-reading the character and she's just a morally frail opportunist.
The action scenes are as they should be - sharp and messy, but without the spatial incoherence of most Statham movies. You can actually see what's going on, and the choreography that's displayed is inventively brutal. A knife fight in a hotel room has a stand-out moment that'll make your eyes pop. But although the editing is lucid spatially, there are still some odd choices - the decision to include a flashback so brief and featuring so recent a scene as to make it functionally pointless is a baffling one.
Each Parker adaptation works as a standalone film, if you come to this one ready to watch a slightly above-average Statham action movie then you won't be missing anything. If you want one other point of reference then I'd highly recommend 'Point Blank', the aforementioned Lee Marvin film from 1967. It has a narrative use of colour, and meticulous composition, and a hundred other touches of love and thought that elevate it above the field. As 21st century action capers go, though, Statham's 'Parker' makes the grade.
DVD EXTRAS:- Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford
- “Bringing the Hunter to Life: The Making of Parker” featurette
- “Who is Parker?” featurette
'Parker' is out now DVD/Blu-ray now, and available to purchase at amazon.co.uk etc.