I might as well just start right off by saying that, at many levels, this is not an objectively good film, but I’m fine with that. Films of this nature — heist/revenge action flicks — have no business straining for higher meaning, or seeking to universalise the human experience, or whatever. There should be some intricately-detailed plotting involving the liberation of precious and high-monetary-value things, there should be some good villains, there should be a solid moral centre, and there should be some tension in the various interactions between these elements.
The character of Parker is the antihero at the moral centre of the film: sure, he’s a thief, but as so many in fiction, he has principles. His accomplices in the film’s opening heist (the best setpiece in the film, to my mind) do him a wrong, and he spends the film putting that right. And like Walker in Point Blank (1967), based on the same character, all he wants is the money he’s owed. Playing Parker, Jason Statham is adequate. His elocution can at times be difficult to pick up, and he’s not great at accents, but he has the gruffness and directness you expect from an action hero.
The strength of the film, and a weakness of the plotting, is Jennifer Lopez. Her character is basically unnecessary to the central thrust of the narrative (Parker’s revenge) and could easily be dispensed with, yet scene after scene is written seemingly to showcase her acting, without really moving things along much. The interactions between her and a local police officer could be spun off into another (quite different) film. There’s also an odd minute or two where the film basically stops, shifting suddenly into quite different emotional terrain, as Lopez’s struggling estate agent delivers a monologue explaining why she is compelled to help Parker, despite not really knowing anything about him (though even this tenuous backstory justification is dispensed with for her mother, who helps Parker, bloody and battered and dripping blood over her dog, on even less pretext). It’s not even as if this is in aid of a romantic sub-plot; Parker has a girlfriend and, however perfunctory her appearance may be, it’s clear he’s not going to pursue Lopez.
And yet she is delightful, and I’m reminded how much I’ve missed her acting in the many years since Out of Sight (1998) — which shares some of the same sun-dappled Floridian settings as Parker (the latter primarily set in Palm Beach). Her role is essentially as a comedic interlude, intended perhaps to soften some of Statham’s gravelly dourness, and though it doesn’t seem to lighten him up, it was good to see her being given some quality screentime. She has a light touch, bringing to her character a similar kind of vulnerable winsomeness that, say, Rashida Jones brings to TV’s Parks and Recreation. It’s only a pity she hasn’t been in more films in the interim: unlike so many of the other actors here (some of whom have excellent acting pedigrees), she makes it seem effortless.
As for the rest of the film, it’s largely by-the-numbers. The villains are suitably villainous (never betraying any hint of ambiguity), and — Lopez’s character aside — the plot mechanics move everything along swiftly, all elements orchestrated nimbly by the director. There’s some ludicrous and baffling dialogue at times, and there’s a real physicality about the beaten, bloody and bruised bodies on display. There’s also a coda that made me realise that I’d already forgotten characters and plots points from earlier in the film — which may say something about my terrible memory, but also about quite how transitory the film’s pleasures are. Yet there are definitely some pleasures to be had, if you accept its retrogressive generic tropes. It’s difficult for me to wholeheartedly recommend it as a film, but I can’t dismiss it either.
Director Taylor Hackford; Writer John J. McLaughlin (based on the novel Flashfire by Donald E. Westlake); Cinematographer J. Michael Muro; Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez; Length 118 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Sunday 17 March 2013.