With all the (negative) press being dumped on the recent returns of ’80s action heroes Arnie, Stallone and Bruce Willis, spare a little thought for poor Jason Statham. Only 12 years Bruce’s junior, The Stath became the go-to action hero just as Millennials began to tire of macho heroics in favour of CGI nonsense. With the notable exception of his Transporter series, almost all of the films Statham has headed have struggled to recoup their cost in cinemas, despite regularly becoming staples of man-sized DVD collections afterwards.
Parker is likely to do the same. A basic revenge/heist caper in the vein of Point Blank – its tagline, “Payback has a new name”, seems to draw on the disastrous Point Blank remake Payback – Parker finds The Stath left for dead by some co-conspirators, and vowing to take them down on their next job. The film is based on the book Flashfire, the nineteenth (!) book in the Parker series by American crime fiction author Donald Westlake, who wrote under the nom de plume Richard Stark. Unsurprisingly, that series also bears the inspiration for Point Blank, although it’s troubling to note that John Boorman’s film was based on a different Parker novel. Do they all begin with Parker being betrayed? Probably.
Dodging mob hitmen, Parker tracks his prey to Palm Beach, Florida, where his former colleagues plan to rip-off some very wealthy retirees. He finds a sidekick in mousy real-estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), struggling with banking debts (ooh, how contemporary!), and sets about sabotaging the heist.
There is very little more to Parker than this, and yet the film is padded out to a scandalous two-hour run-time. Featuring only three proper action scenes and a confused romantic subplot, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where the editors should have made cuts, without reducing the film to 70 minutes. While the central fight scene between Parker and a hitman in a plush hotel room is about as visceral a donnybrook as The Stath has ever performed, the good it does is largely undone by the final showdown, wherein the odds have been so teetered in Parker’s favour that tension is nowhere to be found.
Still, despite all its problems, Parker is hardly a disaster. Directed by Taylor Hackford (Ray), it’s never short of competently made. Statham brings his earnest A-game, as always, and fires off one or two chuckle-worthy one-liners. Lopez gets mileage out of recycling her Wedding Planner character, although Patti LuPone steals many of her scenes as her overbearing mother. Michael Chiklis is sufficiently tough and gruff as the villain.
But really it all comes down to its length. Twenty minutes shorter and Parker could have been an easily recommended diversion. As it is, it is just a bit exhausting. It’s not that there are particularly bad scenes in it, but rather far too many unnecessary ones. Wannabe script editors could learn a lot by counting them. That’ll help you make it through the movie.
Don’t expect any of the remaining 23 Parker novels to be made into films any time soon.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)