For those of you who have been around for a while, you know that I have an undeniably slavish obsession with the heist genre. Whether it film, novels, video games or even stage plays, the heist or caper genre is always my favourite. I once even ran a blog on the very subject. Which is all to say that when you put Jason Statham in the role of Parker, a career criminal and stick-up man (from the Westlake/Stark novels), I’m interested. Parker has been played by Lee Marvin (as Walker) and Mel Gibson (as Porter) as well as others, and I find Statham a more interesting choice than most of them (although Anna Karina and Jim Brown were fun).
This review will be spoilery.
The movie starts out with of course, a robbery. There are costumes—nothing flashy—and guns, lots of guns. It’s a straight up smash and grab. Nothing smart, nothing intelligent. In fact, the only bit of sleight of hand is in their escape and that’s covered with big, loud, “look over here.” This crew (lead by Statham and including Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins, Jr.) lack subtlety. The only real interesting this about this robbery is that it sets up that Parker is very principled. If he says something is going to happen, it very much is going to happen and he’s going to make sure that happens. It also shows that killing for him is a bit of a last resort, but one he will take if provoked. This sets up a counter point to the other guys who are heavies who seem to have itchier trigger fingers.
Anyway, the robbery is successful, but when Parker’s principles get in the way, the others leave him for dead on the side of the road. This, in all seriousness, should have been the end of the movie. When tasked with making sure someone is dead, and you have the ability to do so from point blank range, you aim for the head and empty the clip. One of the goons—Hardwicke—is shown to be fairly incompetent, but come on.
We know of course, that Parker survives, and is taken to the hospital. Bad news for a guy who just lifted a cool mil from the county fair across state lines. He has a quick exchange with an older man with a voice box (and the most entertaining duo in the film) but then moves on intent to kill his former colleagues and get back his cut.
Interspersed is a romance between Parker and Claire which is sloppily handled in flashbacks and brief vignettes as a means to give Parker “something to care about,” but let’s be honest here… we get that Parker is principled and getting what he’s owed is enough incentive to want these guys dead. She and her daddy (played well by Nick Nolte) both ask him to give this hunt up and he refuses because of that principle. We didn’t really need a character who is hardly in the film, and is entirely superfluous. When the professional hitman comes to collect, I was wishing he had.
Statham’s Parker tracks leads all across the southeast U.S., beating people up, shooting guns, in hopes of finding his former crew’s next hit. It’s extremely standard fare, and for the most part is a waste of Statham. He’s had a habit of taking roles where he’s just a hard man without any real flair in his beat ‘em up scenes. It’s the same story here, and you could have had any grim tough guy in this role. There are flashes of brilliant action sequences but a far, far cry from his Transporter days.
He tracks them all to Palm Beach which the characters set up as impregnable, impossible. No one can rob this city. Please. Heist films have been lifting from Monte Carlo, The Kremlin, Langley, and countless other places, and you want me to believe Palm Beach is impossible? Which, fine, in your fiction, I would have been willing to accept if later in the film, the crew hadn’t been successful with one of the most tinker toy smash and grabs ever.
Before Parker can exactly pin down where and what his former crew are up to, he enlists the help of “woe-is-me” real estate agent Jennifer Lopez. I was really hoping going into this that we would maybe have been gifted more of a Out of Sight J-Lo than J-Lo, J-Lo. If you were hoping the same… sorry. Someone had the bright idea of casting J-Lo as the “feisty” yet ultimately way-too-whiney-to-be-fiesty Leslie. This brings out all the negative qualities in J-Lo that people have been wailing about her whole career, but hey, she takes her clothes off! So, that’s worth it, right? Not really, no.
They end up finding the place where the crew will lay low after the robbery. This leads to the best part of character development and probably the best part of the film. Parker sneaks into the house and sabotages all the guns in the place, and stashes a few of his own. He’s turned their safehouse into a deathtrap. Parker has picked his battlefield and ensured victory on it. This is the ultimate deception. These are the kind of moves that make heist films my favourite. Unfortunately, it’s also the only real flourish in the whole film.
Some needless things happen, like Leslie falling in love with Parker (two unnecessary romances? Sign me up!), Parker gets laid out by the”professional” hitman, but somehow survives. Comedic relief from Leslie’s mother, blah, blah, blah.
Heist time. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a smash and grab crew fake a fire, pose as firemen and then sneak in to case the joint. I guess it makes sense, the film based on the book Flashfire but, not only is the plan a little trite, but the escape is just too simple. I thought Palm Beach was impossible? If the diamonds were really that valuable, they would have ben installed in fireproof cases that would have required a bit more effort than a crowbar. I understand that the film is more about the revenge fantasy than the heist, but if you’re going to bill something is impossible, make it harder for a twenty-something with a copy of Anarchist Cookbook to pull off.
Regardless, the crew retire back to the safehouse congratulatory that they just pulled the “steal of a lifetime.” Of course, Parker lay in wait with the element of surprise, and no fear of any of their weapons because he rigged them all. That element of surprise is quickly dashed when Leslie arrives to “help.” She’s quickly captured and the lightbulb dings that Parker’s around. Some stabbing happens, some shooting, some unnecessary and revolting hints of rape, and Michael Chiklis getting thrashed in the only real sign that Parker is in fact played by Jason Statham. Two things do stand out here, though, and none of them positive. In fifteen minutes of being at the safehouse, Leslie finds one of Parker’s stashed handguns (they’re not very well hidden). In a solid week of being there, none of these career criminals do, even after they should know Parker’s gunning for them. Second, Leslie the lowly real-estate agent even in the height of her fear is smart enough to empty the clip into her would-be rapist. Remember back at the beginning when Hardwicke (and admittedly dull) career criminal didn’t do that? Hmmm… yeah.
I really don’t favour simple smash and grab robbery flicks, and I knew this would be more of that than a true heist film. Of the smash and grab variety, though, I do like the character of Parker so I was looking forward to this especially with Statham as Parker. Based on Flashfire, I knew this would be more about the revenge fantasy, too. Again, with Statham, I was along for the ride. However, I can’t really overlook huge plot holes, even bigger suspensions of disbelief, needless characters (and associated plots), refuting your own continuity and an annoying J-Lo. Give me a movie where Nick Nolte, Jason Statham and the dude with the voice box travel across the southeast acting like badasses, beating people up like badasses and getting their revenge and I would have loved it. This… not so much.