Parker (Jason Statham) is a principled criminal and, thanks to that rigid code of bad-guy honor, almost entirely self-contained. He’s a one-man army when confronted by thugs, a solo crime mastermind and a scarred-up lover to his exceptionally devoted, yet completely blank, girlfriend (Emma Booth, who, conveniently, isn’t around much and when she does pop up it’s to bring fresh, sterile surgical gut and sew up Parker’s latest round of profuse bleeding). But lone wolves don’t always cash in, so he’s in search of cooperative, like-minded thieves who’ll play by his rules and split the big payday.
He cannot find those thieves. Instead, he finds four heist partners (Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr., Wendell Pierce, Micah Hauptman) who double-cross him and leave him for dead after a botched heist at the Ohio State Fair. When they bolt off to Palm Beach, Parker hunts them down seeking revenge and it’s there that he runs into disgruntled real estate agent/divorcee Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), whose connections he uses to help locate his prey.
It is at this point in most films following similar templates when sex-sparks begin to fly. But that doesn’t happen here. Opposites do not attract. At all. Were they supposed to? Lopez’s entirely unnecessary character is, instead, a plot device that decides to stick around and occasionally demonstrate how well she wears lingerie. She’s better than this when directed to it, a magnetic presence when given the opportunity. So to see her wasted here, forced to behave girlishly and neurotically and eventually become a hostage, is insulting. Ultimately, only director Taylor Hackford knows, but whatever else she was meant to be in this film besides the softening agent in an otherwise violent revenge drama is a mystery.
Meanwhile, there’s nothing mysterious about the the obvious: Statham doesn’t need her or any female character to accomplish his usual to-do list of Statham-Stuff. He runs, shoots, fights and bleeds like he does in every film, and here the only spark of life takes place in moments when he’s delivering or receiving violence. And that’s what you came to see, really. In contemporary action cinema, he’s the go-to guy for this sort of thing and he’s built a sturdy career playing exactly the same Man from Nowhere over and over again in all but a handful of unusual detours (like the early Guy Ritchie movies or 2008′s crackling The Bank Job, and even then he’s still mostly that guy). He’s a generic yet magnetic brute and he carries the weight all by himself.
It’s just that that’s not enough this time around. The heist details plod along, characters refuse to connect to one another, it’s ugly-looking from start to finish and, worst of all, nobody seems to be having a good time. Isn’t the point of crime on film to provide extreme, escapist fantasy, a dirty dream of a not-boring nine-to-five job, a setup and payoff delivering millions of dollars? And if so, shouldn’t somebody on camera act like they’re having fun being bad for cash?
The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, “yes.” But like selfish criminals, movies don’t always cooperate for the good of the group.
By Dave White