About a month ago, I made some remarks about the fan reaction to Tom Cruise being cast as Jack Reacher, saying it was not that big of a deal. Now I am challenged by one of my all time favorite series characters, Parker, being questionably cast. While there are several adaptations of Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) hard as nails heist man, this is the first time the actual name Parker is used. Lee Marvin played him with the name Walker in Point Blank, Robert Duvall as Macklin in The Outfit, and Mel Gibson used the name Porter in Payback. However it is British actor Jason Statham who must prove himself worthy of the Parker name.
My doubts set in at the beginning of the movie, with hints that the producers were going to soften our anti-hero. Right before a robbery at a state fair, Parker helps a little girl win a stuffed animal. Then during the heist, he eases the nerves of a security guard in a friendly manner. It can be argued that he’s doing what’s necessary for the job, but neither is in the book and they could have presented situations that expressed something closer to the character. They even make the relationship with his girl Claire, who is more of a moll in the books, more domesticated.
Plot wise, the film remains close to Stark’s Flashfire (the film’s source material). After the heist, the crew he’s been put with ask Parker to throw in his $200,000 cut to help finance a score in Palm Beach that could net everyone two million each. When Parker refuses, they try to kill him in an intense shootout inside an SUV. As in several of the Parker books, he is left for dead, then recovers, and, by using his criminal skills, finances his way back to those who set him in order to set things right. Unfortunately, many of the robberies he commits in Flashfire, where we really see what kind of person Parker is are not in the film.
It seems that the methodology for both Parker and the rival crew was removed to flesh out the character of Leslie, a real estate broker played by Jennifer Lopez. Leslie blackmails Parker into being a partner, even though we really don’t see what she does. She mainly seems to be a device to show the sweeter side of Parker. It also doesn’t help that in many scenes Statham has Parker passing himself off as a Texas oilman with an accent that got laughs from the Austin audience I saw it with: if this were a Dortmunder adaptation, that might have worked.
Other than that accent, Statham is fair as Parker. He carries the character’s coolness under pressure in the heists and his martial arts training skills work in the fight scenes, which are rough at times, even though they show less of Parker’s efficiency and brutality. The one thing Statham lacks is the quiet presence that Marvin and Duvall could tap into to make the character work.
What mainly hurts Parker is the pace and tone. The first half is pretty tight. It’s when they bring in “character development” where things start to get bogged down. They didn’t realize it’s the cold professionalism of the character and the no fat narrative that make this series so appealing. By “humanizing” the story the sparseness is gone. Parker veers from stone-cold tough guy one moment to good-hearted the next. The film adaptations that got the starkness (pun intended) of Parker and his violent world, Point Blank and The Outfit, are considered minor classics. Parker, it seems, will be forgotten by next weekend.