Like the Elvis movie, Jason Statham’s contribution to film has become a self-sustaining sub-genre. Like all personality cults it thrives on the odd and somewhat unquantifiable magnetism of the messianic figure at its centre, in this case a bestubbled, gruff, former market trader from Sydenham who somehow became South London’s sequel to Steven Seagal. Of course it helps that Statham sounds like he’s grinding glass between his teeth and looks to have been grown from muscle tissue in a larger solution, but there’s more to it than that. God help us we like Jason; we might even turn a blind eye to his beady, uneducated eye exploring the contours of our girlfriends, because ultimately he’s The Stath; he puts the fun back into discriminate, pornographic violence.
In Parker, a title you can’t miss on account of some fucking huge blood red letters, he’s a thief with principles; principles that we’re introduced to in a character sketching opener in which he tells us he’s just one of the people, albeit one with a gun, that he doesn’t steal from anyone who doesn’t deserve it – though we discount that one on the grounds of self-interest and he doesn’t hurt innocents. You’ve barely had time to make a note of these before poor Jason’s betrayed by his greedy crew and left for dead on the roadside. From there he plots a two-pronged revenge: steal the cash his ex-colleagues stand to make on the job they were stupid enough to tell him about before they tried to murder him and kill them all. You don’t doubt our man will succeed but the question for the audience is whether the journey’s going to be short enough and brutal enough to satisfy both our blood lust and faith in Jason as a one-man murder machine whom we’d happily treat to a pint.
Though there’s intermittent scrapping, including an excellent fight in a hotel room, complete with pierced flesh and smashed porcelain, Taylor Hackford’s meat and potatoes revenge movie meanders in the middle, making that bridge from Statham’s near death experience to the climatic heist and shoot out longer than it looks on approach. Part of the problem is the introduction of unnecessary love interest Jennifer Lopez as the, er, estate agent who gives our man some assistance in his Palm Beach manhunt. The character’s existence strikes you as an unnecessary complication because Statham already has a squeeze to protect, the suitably nervous Emma Booth, and J-Lo’s introduction takes an eternity to pay off.
Given that she doesn’t appear for at least half an hour it feels as though Hackford had already started filming when Lopez agreed to participate. Once on board she acts as a break on the unfolding action, looking downcast and taking an eternity to show Jason and his obscene Texan accent around Florida’s Island paradise before finally making herself plot-useful. By then it’s hard to see what purpose she serves, except to strip down for Statham when the movie starts to flag at mid-point. Our suspicions that she’s a character from Richard Stark’s source novel, Flashfire, that would have been cut had there been time for another draft is confirmed when writer John J. McLaughlin is forced to contort wildly in order to shoehorn her into the climax. A surfeit of characters fills pages nicely but in a movie that need not be anymore complicated than a burger and fries, Lopez is like the salad garnish that’s never eaten.
Nevertheless Parker is an enjoyable actioner with a likable star and enough dick swinging to lift the spirits that ham-fisted plotting sometimes threatens to dampen. In an uneven flick, the bad – Nick Nolte and Patti LuPone, smothered in bread sauce – is offset by some good, hardboiled shitkickery. It’s not Statham’s finest hour; no movie in which he wears a cowboy’s hat could be; but it just about makes it through thanks to the big man’s mystifying screen presence and a healthy dose of knowing self-deprecation.