Parker (★★★ Empire Review)

ParkerSquarePLOT Shot and left for dead after a daring heist, Parker (Jason Statham) tracks his fellow thieves to Florida’s wealthy Palm Beach, where he plots to steal the haul from their latest robbery with the help of a local estate agent (Jennifer Lopez).

Jason Statham is a reliably unreliable action star, shooting three misfires (Death Race, Killer Elite) for every bullseye (Snatch, Safe). Having succeeded Charles Bronson in a recent remake of The Mechanic, Statham now takes on the role of Richard Stark’s (aka blacklisted writer Donald E Westlake) eponymous master thief, previously played by Lee Marvin (Point Blank), Robert Duvall (The Outfit) and, most recently, Mel Gibson (Payback). This 21st century take on the character, overseen by journeyman director Taylor Hackford (aka Mr Helen Mirren), fits Statham like a jewel thief’s glove; after seeing him in action, it’s almost impossible to read a Parker novel without hearing The Stath’s inimitable Cockney rasp. Even after umpteen novels, Parker is characterised more by actions more than words, his hardness established by the fact that even his girlfriend calls him by his surname – and that, at one stage, he pushes his hand onto a knife to stop it being stuck in his eye.

The film opens with a daring daylight robbery at the Ohio State Fair, followed by a cheeky reprise of the plot of The Hunter, the first Parker novel (the basis for Point Blank/Payback), with Parker double-crossed and left for dead (again). From here, John J McLaughlin’s script largely follows the plotting of the source text (the nineteenth Parker novel, Flashfire, published in 2000), fleshing out the supporting characters, notably Lopez’s loopy estate agent. With her arrival, thirty minutes in, Parker takes a surprise left turn into caper territory – although the film’s violent tendencies (it will go down a storm with the NRA) flare up periodically to remind us we’re not watching The Thomas Crown Affair. Lopez, who hasn’t made a good movie (or a good record, for that matter) since Out of Sight, is an inspired foil for Statham, her character’s klutzy nature and verbal diarrhoea nicely juxtaposed with Parker’s cool reticence, and it’s rare to find a fully fleshed-out female character in what is ostensibly a violent action thriller. Hackford’s reach may ultimately exceed his grasp, but this is a skilful execution of a minor Parker novel.

VERDICT Fifty years after he first appeared, Donald E Westlake’s anti-hero may have found his perfect on-screen avatar. Like Parker’s robberies, it isn’t entirely successful, but Statham and Lopez make for enticingly mismatched partners in crime. ★★★

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