Going under a variety of different names, the ruthless career criminal created by author Donald E Westlake in his Parker novels has been impersonated on screen by a range of stars – from Lee Marvin, as Walker in John Boorman’s 1967 noir classic Point Blank, to Mel Gibson, as Porter in 1998 remake Payback. (To complicate matters further, Westlake wrote his crime series under the pseudonym Richard Stark.)
The latest cinematic hard man to take on the role is Jason Statham, and for the first time in a film he does go by the name Parker. This eponymous revenge thriller, based on Flashfire, Westlake/Stark’s 19th Parker novel, initially finds the master thief masterminding a heist at the Ohio State Fair. But his four partners (led by Michael Chiklis) do a double-cross and leave him for dead while making their getaway (this seems to happen to Parker a good deal).
Naturally, he doesn’t take this lying down and sets about hunting the quartet. With a tip-off from craggy mentor Nick Nolte and the unwitting aid of Jennifer Lopez’s local estate agent, he runs them to ground amid the swanky surroundings of Palm Beach, Florida, where they are planning a multi-million-dollar jewel robbery. Parker aims to get even and get the loot, but what will happen to his scheme if Lopez sees through his pose as a dodgy-accented Texan millionaire?
In the world of crime fiction, the best-laid plans typically go awry – and the same goes for films based on crime fiction. On paper, the set-up looks good. Statham is a good fit for the relentless Parker and his teaming with Lopez offers the promise of the erotic frisson she brought to Out of Sight. In practice, director Taylor Hackford’s film doesn’t fully come off – and there’s no romantic spark between Statham and Lopez. Partly because Statham isn’t George Clooney; partly because he’s been saddled with a girlfriend (Emma Booth), a blank of a character whose only role seems to be to patch up the hero after he’s been stabbed or shot; and partly because Lopez’s ditzy character is awkwardly played for comedy.
Elsewhere, Hackford does supply some genuinely hard-boiled thrills, including the briskly efficient opening heist and a bruising hotel-room tussle for Parker and a would-be assassin. But when Lopez wiggles and pouts her way into the caper, the film goes soft.
In cinemas from Friday 8th March.
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