Parker and Let's Get Serious About Statham

So Parker opens tonight properly in the US and, for some fans, there is much riding on it because of their love of the books and this being the first, all-important, time that a film-maker is using the character's real name.
The character has been portrayed many times on screen, most famously by Lee Marvin in Point Blank.
If I am honest I can't speak to their fandom or concerns as I have never read the books, I am, however, a fan of Point Blank and Mel Gibson's now, sadly, overlooked film Payback.
When it comes to Taylor Hackford's new take on the character though, I am there for one reason and one reason only and that is Jason Statham. I couldn't exactly or rightly pinpoint when exactly it was I became proudly gaytham for Statham (as my buddy Moe would say) but The Mechanic being a surprisingly good remake and the 1-2-3-4 mega punch of The Expendables, Killer Elite, Safe and The Expendables 2 certainly cemented me as a life long fan.

We'll get onto The Stath in a minute though, let's just quickly give Parker the once over. I will try, where I can, to not spoil anything.

As I did last week for The Last Stand, I caught the 10pm Thursday preview screening of Parker last night in a cinema with the wife, one other couple and a solitary man. A big turn out it was not, sadly.
The film tells the tale of a principled, pleasant enough thief who is double-crossed, left for dead and, of course, given no choice but to wreak long bloody but highly principled revenge.
I will say, up front, that this is not classic Statham. It falls into the not-as-good-as-Safe-but-better-than-Blitz territory, possibly a good double bill with the slightly similar themed Bank Job maybe.
What problems the film has, though, must be planted firmly at the feet of the director, Taylor Hackford and Jennifer Lopez. Parker walks a slightly similar path to Lopez's most successful screen outing, Out of Sight but where her character in that film shines with strength, sizzling sex appeal and satisfying sarcasm, in Parker, while she's putting the effort in, the part doesn't give her much to work with. Also, at a certain point, her character makes one of those decisions that film-characters do in order to heighten a tense scene and that grated ever so slightly with me.
The same can be said for the direction, where Out of Sight employed Soderbergh's usual bag of stylistic and artistic tricks to keep the slower parts of that film visually rich, Parker falters a little and can be just plain bland when it's concerned with character and plot rather than indulging in pleasing bouts of over-the-top, gory ultra-violence. It really needed to be Soderberghed up or to be made more gritty like a Get Carter, sadly, the cinematography at least, winds up being a little on the beige side.
That's about all in terms of niggles though.
Statham is as assured as ever and even a sequence which I was sure was going to be blatantly laughable, when the notoriously-not-very-good-at-accents Stath has to imitate a Texan, turned out to be fine and did the job well. The action is phenomenally well performed and there's lots of claret splashing all over the place, way more than I expected in fact.

To be fair to this film though, much like The Last Stand before it and I suspect Bullet To The Head (coming next week), it has been marketed all wrong. A better campaign would've linked it to slower paced yet strongly violent 70s fare. I know the books are set in the past and Statham's wish was to do it, like Killer Elite and The Bank Job, in the correct period but there wasn't any support for that from the producers. Instead I feel that, while the setting maybe contemporary, they have tried to imbue the film with the colder, slightly grittier feel of a 70s film. It isn't entirely succesful as I have said, it needed more interesting direction and a funky soundtrack but on a second or third viewing I definitely see this growing on me.

Unlike The Last Stand I am not sure this is necessarily going to please hardcore action fans, as there are long sections where nary a nose is broken or a knee dislocated with the butt of a shotgun, and I can't imagine it's the Parker film all the fans of the novels have been waiting for either but for us Stathamites it's a chance to once again bask in the bullet headed Brit's brilliant screen presence as he defies expectations again and tries something a little different.

While James Bond may have run 50 years, having a muscle bound English action hero is something of an extreme rarity. Yes there was Gary Daniels before him and Scott Adkins fast on his heals but both seem to stay firmly in the realms of the straight-to-video world, at least for now. I am not sure I could think of another Englishman who has achieved what Statham has and I am genuinely surprised how often that goes un-noticed on both sides of the pond. Also I am genuinely surprised how often our beloved Stath is dismissed as being one note, always making the same film, not being a good actor or only doing films in which he takes off his shirt.
It's perfectly true to say that Statham makes films within similar genres and it would also be true to say that he is aware that there are certain things expected of him when he makes a film: shirts off for the ladies, a fight scene for the lads and a couple of cheesy one liners but there is definitely more to the cult of Stath than this paltry check list of genre cliches.
Some may have wondered, back in 2010 when they went to see The Expendables, who is this gruff voiced, cockney Bruce Willis sitting next to Stallone in the cockpit of this plane? and others may have wondered that with talent and bigger names like Lundgren, Li and Rourke in the film, what was Jason Statham, a relative young upstart, doing playing Sylvester Stallone's right hand man? but when you examine what Statham has done with his career it doesn't remain a mystery very long.
It also shows that Stallone is an astute observer of talent and the industry as well as a consummate professional film-maker of the highest order.
First of all, due to his love of Bruce Lee and Stallone movies, Jason Statham was dedicated to doing things, as much as he could, for real. He trained and studied martial arts and in his Transporter and Crank series he does almost every single physical stunt seen on screen.
Secondly, much like Stallone and Willis, while aware of his little niche in the industry or 'pigeon hole' if you like, he has tried, wherever possible to make different and interesting choices.
Sometimes the impetus behind the decisions maybe obvious things like working with first time, maverick, guerilla style film-makers on the Crank series or starring in a period heist flick written by two veteran British comedy TV writers and sometimes his reasoning for taking a project might be subtle to the outsider but, gathering what I can from interviews, Statham carefully picks his film roles based on either cast members, director, script or the chance to do something he's not done before.
Now before you say 'wait a minute, isn't that what everyone does? why is that special?' think about how easy it would be for Statham to currently be making The Transporter 7 right now, or Crank 5 or think about how instead of doing a straight to DVD 80s style action film we've seen a million times he chose to take a true-ish spy story with ambiguous characters and make a big-ish budget action film set in drab early 80s Britain with Robert DeNiro and Clive Owen.
I don't care what you say that shows someone who is striving to make things as interesting and as different as possible.

The other thing to note is that what is also rare these days and wonderful to see, is how the industry has allowed him to do it. His box office has not always been strong and yet he continues to get so much funding for different projects that the man can remain as prolific, hard working and challenged as he wants to. Yeah there might be misses, for some audiences the majority of his stuff might not interest them in the slightest but at least he is being given the opportunity to chase a variety of projects because from that model you always get a few cast iron classics. Safe showed him to have some surprising depth in his performance and like Stallone had his Rambo breakdown in First Blood, Rocky's simple but earnest underdog character and his fantastic nuanced performance in Copland, so too will Statham get his chance. I hope.

So while Parker had bits I loved and bits I didn't, it defied my expectations again by simply not being just-another-action-film (not that it would've been bad if it was either) but having a script just as interested with characters and plot as it was with blood spewing fight scenes. It's just a shame it didn't have a director good enough to 100% pull it off.

3.5 out of 5

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