It would be great, one day, to see Jason Statham try his hand at a romance, or slapstick farce. He wouldn’t have to change what he does — if he could, which seems doubtful. Somehow, the counterintuitive casting of the taciturn British action star — shaved dome, sinewy, snarling his lines as he hot-wires a pickup — in something light and larky, or Nicholas Sparks-y, is an appealing notion. Incongruous, almost surreal.
There’s nothing incongruous, however, about the title role Statham takes on in Parker. A master thief with a tensile moral code and a torso scarred with bullet holes, Statham’s Parker shows up at the Ohio State Fair with a tuft of gray hair and a clerical collar — a priest out for a day of carnival games and sack races. In fact, he’s the point man in a heist scheme, robbing the offices of a weekend’s worth of receipts. Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins, Wendell Pierce and Micah Hauptman are his cohorts — and after a chaotic getaway, they double-cross him, leaving him on the side of the road, presumed dead.
Wrong! Not dead!
Adapted from the pseudonymous Donald E. Westlake novel Flashfire (but with loads of similarities to another Westlake-as-Richard Stark thriller, The Hunter, which was turned into the Lee Marvin classic Point Blank), Parker goes from there. And he goes from Kentucky to New Orleans to Palm Beach, using his criminal wiles to track the crooked quartet down. Along the way, he has to send his girlfriend (Emma Booth) into hiding, because a Chicago mob boss is out to get him. There are phone calls with Nick Nolte, too (somebody get that man a lozenge!). Nolte is Parker’s girlfriend’s dad, and the guy who set him up with the four shifty mugs in the first place.
And then there’s Jennifer Lopez’s Leslie, a hard-up Palm Beach real estate agent (she says “Italianate villa” with aplomb) who meets Parker, disguised as a Texas millionaire, but susses him out and insinuates herself into his payback scheme. This requires, among other things, stripping to her undies so Parker can be sure she’s not wearing a wire.
And it requires a willingness to abandon all plausibility. But, hey.
Taylor Hackford directs crisply, unpretentiously. Patti LuPone goes Latina, playing Lopez’s soap opera-addicted mom, and Bobby Cannavale is a Palm Beach cop with an eye for Leslie. The action is fast and furious, Parker gets stabbed and shot and almost falls off a high-rise ledge to his death.
And he gets to say stuff like “Will you wait for me at the fish camp?”
To which his girlfriend replies, “You know I will.”
Take that, Nicholas Sparks.