However, to dismiss Parker, the actor’s new film, in a hurry would be to miss out on some frankly mindless but competently made fun from renowned Ray director Taylor Hackford and Black Swan writer John J. McLaughlin. Not to mention, this film is based on the Donald E. Westlake (as Richard Stark) novel Flashfire taken from a successful series about a ruthless career criminal with principles called Parker, a character brought to screen by Mel Gibson in Payback (1999) and earlier by Lee Marvin in Point Blank (1967). Granted, Parker (2013) has some incredulous plot and subplot situations but is like a guilty Stratham pleasure, dripping with bloody insanity – plus it helps that both leads, including Jennifer Lopez are easy on the eye and the brain.
Professional thief Parker (Statham) is double-crossed after a botched robbery at the Ohio State Fair, causing tragedy in the process. Not impressed by the loss of life, Parker turns down the offer of working with the same four-man gang again (led by Michael Chiklis as ring leader Melander) – unbeknown that the Mob is involved this time, only for them to leave him for dead by a roadside. Seeking revenge, Parker tracks the gang to Palm Beach, Florida, that is planning a multi-million dollar jewellery heist at an auction. Parker disguised as a wealthy Texan recruits the help of attractive but down-on-her-luck, local real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Lopez) who susses him out as up to no good and wants in on the action to get her out of her dead-end existence, living with her demanding mum (Patti LuPone). Reluctantly, Parker needs her to scope the local landscape and the gang’s movements as much as she needs him as her meal ticket out of the retirement paradise, but he doesn’t vouch for the Mob coming after them when they learn he’s still alive.
Some Westlake fans might quibble over the choice of Statham as Parker, considering the character in the books is cold, meticulous and murderously violent: Statham has made his mark on screen dishing out the blows to deserved recipients with usually minimal blood spillage, while always retaining a redeeming and loyal quality underneath. Expect more brutal, mean Statham in this, but still a man of cynical, selective words with the power to charm the local female population at a hundred paces and raise a few sniggers at his one-liners.
It’s the same Stratham macho magic, only a little eye-wateringly grizzly in places, but the loyalty and determination still intact to allow us to root for him. Admittedly, just how wounded Parker manages to dispel the bad guys is quite astonishing, but setting reality aside, watching him is like watching a cat with nine lives, which is all part of the film’s appeal.
Lopez has always courted mixed reviews for her acting abilities, and plays a cross between ditzy cutesy and tough-talking Karen Sisco from Out of Sight as Leslie. The chemistry between Statham and Lopez is highly convincing, even though for Parker, loyalty means in every aspect of his life, including staying faithful to girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth), and Leslie and him never do get steamy. That said there is a sizzling, lingering scene for Lopez admirers to check out her pert booty, when Parker asks Leslie to strip to (ahem) ‘check for a wire’. The actress shows she’s still got the goods to play the rogue’s moll.
Aside from looking mighty fine, Lopez does provide some genuinely funny and fresh responses to LuPone’s henpecking and Parker’s bloody-mindedness, standing her own ground as the comedian in this, set against Statham’s tough, blunt delivery. It also helps that the silly plot to rob the sunny island of its local jewels and grab the proceeds fits the whole fake scenario of the location – Palm Beach society life has suddenly become the height of cool, it seems, thanks to the Hackford-McLaughlin presence that makes the action just that little bit more plausible. The film-makers also get added help from acting heavyweights who provide admirable supporting performances, including Chiklis as the nasty thug and a bedraggled Nick Nolte as Claire’s father and shifty Parker contact, Hurley.
Parker is well executed, ultimately entertaining and totally consumable but hardly groundbreaking as action thrillers go. Nevertheless, Statham is as effective as ever as straight-talking and determined Parker who we naturally egg on to right wrongs by any means possible, all the while knowing he could get the girl if he wanted to – heck, he even wins over Mum, no questions asked, as he bleeds over the Rodgers’ condo floor.