Parker, the adaptation of of Donald Westlake’s novel Flashfire (the 19th entry into the Parker series), makes it clear from near minute one that it’s a jaunt not taking itself too seriously. The titular thief (Jason Statham) first appears to us decked out in priest garb, complete with a ridiculous grey wig and glasses, a silly disguise during an opening heist sequence that sets the occasionally rickety tone for all that is to follow.
Parker and a four-man team assigned to him by mentor Hurley (Nick Nolte) steal a large cash stash from a local fair, but it all goes wrong when the gang’s leader, Melander (Michael Chiklis), doesn’t take kindly to Parker’s refusing a tasty follow-up job. Parker ends up left for dead, and as he recovers, vows sweet revenge. Soon enough, a downtrodden real estate broker, Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), gets dragged into the fray when she cottons onto Parker’s wily quest for vengeance.
At its best, Taylor Hackford’s (An Office and a Gentleman, The Devil’s Advocate, Ray) caper is a fair amount of fun; it’s often hilarious and has a po-faced, tongue in cheek tone. When Parker poses as a southern oil-man in order to peruse Leslie’s property listings and chase down a lead, Statham proves a surprisingly effective comic component, relishing in his large cowboy hat and daft accent.
Though not a might as action-packed as Statham’s usual efforts, there are some exhilarating moments – a first-reel in-car shootout proves effectively visceral – even if it all mostly comes from the Steven Seagal school of making everything look just a little too easy.
That said, Hackford knows when to ratchet up the intensity – even if it’s at the expense of the film’s tonal integrity – by getting The Stath nice and bloodied up by film’s end, paying an unexpected amount of attention to a gaping knife wound Parker suffers. There’s also an unexpected level of morality to all the dramatic bloodshed that plays out; people are killed unexpectedly in the first heist – against Parker’s absolute rule that no civilians are endangered – finding the action star in a slightly more thoughtful mode than usual.
Regrettably, however, it is a while before J-Lo makes her appearance, and even longer before she actually comes into the narrative fold – it’s roughly half-way before she meets Statham – though she is great fun as the desperate, broke, depressed woman who at first seems to be Parker’s foil, but is of course something more. Statham and Lopez are a tickling double act, while even the romance works because of Leslie’s palpable desperation and the playful manner in which Parker, turning convention on its head, is the one doing the rejecting.
Helping to propel things forward is a regal supporting cast of character actors, including the aforementioned Nolte and Chiklis, as well as The Wire’s Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr. and Bobby Carnevale. Each gets at least a few memorable moments, though it’s perhaps Chiklis, fashioning a more insidious riff on his Vic Mackey character from The Shield, who is the most intensely dynamic and interesting to watch.
This all builds to an amusingly convoluted climactic heist sequence, which contrasts aptly with an unexpectedly grounded closing statement about the practical issues involved with harbouring large sums of cash; it’s not all flash cars and holiday homes when it’s all said and done.
Sure, there’s an uneasy collision of ideals between the comic relief and the brutal violence, but Parker is nevertheless a moderately entertaining, no-frills crime caper shot through with enthusiasm by its talented cast.
Parker is in UK cinemas this Friday.
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