The Statham of Limitations
Ah, the reliable pleasures of a new Jason Statham movie – has it really been ten years since the first Transporter? Although, I have to confess, I turned up for Taylor Hackford's Parker with some trepidation, fearing that the great man might fall victim to the curse of The Expendables 2 – all the other recent films released by the stars of that movie have turned out to be at best deeply flawed and at worst utterly terrible. But it's a Statham movie so I crossed my fingers and went along anyway.
In the past I have commented that Jason Statham tends to play more-or-less the same character in all his movies – the Jason Statham Character is a highly proficient loner, operating outside the law, ruthless when he has to be but also possessed of a strict moral code. You might think that playing a long-established character created by someone else, as he does here, might require Mr Statham to change his approach. But, as luck would have it, it turns out that that supercool supercriminal Parker, created by Richard Westlake in 1962 (and previously played onscreen – albeit under different names – by Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson and Anna Karina), is a highly proficient loner, operating outside the law, and so on. There's a stroke of luck.
The movie opens very promisingly with a heist at the Ohio State Fair, at which Parker arrives disguised as a Catholic priest. Rather impressively, Jason Statham manages to be completely unconvincing in this deception even when all he's done is walk across a car park, probably due to the dodgy wig he's been issued with for the occasion. We soon see that Parker is a thoughtful and caring master criminal, as he takes the time to give words of comfort and reassurance to witnesses even as he's tying them up at gunpoint.
However, the gang he has teamed up with for this job leave much to be desired, mucking up various minor details of the operation, and also trying to kill Parker and keep his share of the profits – their leader (Michael Chiklis) reveals there is another robbery in prospect for which they need this as capital. However, being hurled from a speeding car and repeatedly shot at close range is not enough to finish off Jason Statham, or indeed Parker, and soon he is back on his feet and in pursuit of his former partners, intent on taking revenge and stealing the proceeds of their next operation...
Well, as you can probably tell, some of the special delights of a Jason Statham vehicle are here to be fully savoured, especially as Parker is clearly intended to be some kind of Master of Disguise. This gives Mr Statham a chance to display his mastery of accent, i.e., the same one he always uses when not playing someone specifically from London. There's a jaw-dropping moment when he turns up pretending to be an oil millionaire, resplendent in cowboy hat and boots, and it becomes clear he's actually going to take a running jump at a Texan accent. Possibly the most credulity-straining thing in this fairly improbable movie is that his foil (Jennifer Lopez) is completely taken in by this. I was also surprised a bit later on when he drops this persona and she comments on the English accent he arguably doesn't have.
That said, J-Lo and J-Stat make an appealing pair of leads, even if the plot requires that there's no opportunity for who-ho-ho between them – the script still manages to squeeze in an only mostly leering sequence in which Parker requires her to strip to her undies in front of him. It is possibly slightly curious how infrequently Statham gets the girl in the course of one of his films – outside the Transporter series, at least, and in one of those he was supposedly gay – either he seems largely disinterested, or there's some pre-existing wife/girlfriend/prostitute hanging around the fringes of the plot.
J-Lo herself is rather good, and the film briefly manages to suggest what it would actually be like for a normal person to have someone as strange and dangerous as Parker crash into their life. Unfortunately, the structure of the film means that she doesn't arrive onscreen until the second act – one of the criticisms I'd make of Parker is that the set-up does take too long; the first act could usefully shed at least ten minutes, which might have given the two stars more parity in terms of their presence in the film.
Apart from that, I thought this was a solid crime thriller, with some moments of genuine tension and unusually bloody violence. Mr Statham's set-piece fight is as brutal as anything he's done in the past, and a couple of times he gets as badly messed up as he's ever been. Emerging from the cinema I heard one of my fellow viewers saying 'I can't believe that was only a 15', which I almost agreed with, although the same couldn't be said for the wail of 'I've got to stop coming to these ****ty movies with you' I later heard in the restroom. It's a Jason Statham thriller! What were people expecting?
Well, maybe they do actually have a point... I mean, I enjoyed Parker on a number of levels, but you could chop it to bits along with Safe, The Mechanic, and so on, splice them all together and not really notice the join. All Mr Statham's films are starting to blur together in terms of their tone and style. I know he makes a virtue of knowing his audience and his limitations as a performer, but it'd be nice to see him show just a little more ambition in terms of future projects – either do something completely off the wall and unexpected, or take a chance on appearing in a supporting role in a really big movie (and not just a cameo, as in the upcoming Fast and Furious 6 and Maximum Break). Then again, I wouldn't be completely dismayed if he just continued knocking out two or three films like this every year, as – for some of us – even a routine Statham is something fairly special.