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Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional thief who lives by a personal code of ethics: don’t steal from people who can't afford it and don't hurt people who don't deserve it. But, on his latest heist, his crew double-crosses him, steals his stash, and leaves him for dead. Determined to make sure they regret it, Parker tracks them to Palm Beach, playground of the rich and famous, where the crew is planning their biggest heist ever. Donning the disguise of a rich Texan, Parker takes on an unlikely partner, Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a savvy insider, who's short on cash, but big on looks, smarts and ambition. Together, they devise a plan to hijack the score, take everyone down and get away clean. (From Sony’s official Synopsis)

Donald E. Westlake’s series of 24 novels (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark) staring a character simply named Parker have been officially adapted to film seven times. Unofficially, the books and character have inspired dozens of movies. Among the official adaptations (where Parker’s name is changed – Westlake’s one stipulation every time he sold the rights) are Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in the USA (1966, not released until 2009), based on The Jugger, Alain Cavalier’s Mise à sac (aka: Midnight Raid, 1967), based on The Score, Gordon Flemyng’s The Split (1968), based on The Seventh (starring Jim Brown as the Parker character), John Flynn’s The Outfit (1973), and Terry Bedford’s Slayground (1983). The two most popular adaptations are John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) and Brian Helgeland’s Payback (1999), both of which are based on the first book in the series, The Hunter (which was also beautifully adapted as a graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke). Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin as ‘Walker,’ sets an incredibly high bar for all other adaptations and is arguably the best Hollywood crime film of the 1960s. Payback, starring Mel Gibson as ‘Porter,’ was initially popular and gained more fame when it was re-released in a darker, director’s cut form in 2006.

24 novels is a lot of source material to leave on the table, so it’s not surprising that someone else has picked up the Parker baton. Stock trader and Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander is the first investor to secure the rights to the Parker name (now that Westlake is dead) and reportedly saw franchise potential in his acquisition. For this first film, Alexander chose Flashfire, the 19th novel in the series and one that hasn’t already been adapted to film. Taylor Hackford, the guy behind perfectly adequate films, like An Officer and a Gentleman and Ray, was hired to direct and Carnivàle and Black Swan scribe John J. McLaughlin was hired to write, but the tone of the film was more clearly set when Jason Statham, a brand name onto himself, was hired to portray the title character.

I haven’t read Flashfire, so I have no idea if Hackford and McLaughlin were true to the source material, but, based on the Parker character I know from The Hunter, Statham’s version is a sizable departure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but bereft of the foundation of the gruff, likeably unpleasant character from Westlake’s novels, Flashfire becomes another generic crime story. More importantly, Parker (the movie) becomes a relatively generic Jason Statham vehicle and Parker (the character) becomes interchangeable with the likes of Frank Martin, the Transporter (arguably, Martin has more in common with Westlake’s Parker than McLaughlin’s Parker). This isn’t to say Statham is bad in the role; he’s actually doing his Statham thing pretty well, alternating between seething anger and cocky charm without missing a beat – but why bother with the property if you’re going to turn it into something defined by its lead actor rather than its source material? There are nice, weird touches throughout that set the film apart, like the terminal cancer patient with a talk box Parker uses to get out of the hospital, but, generally speaking, the storyline grows less unique and interesting as it progresses.

Again, I haven’t read the book version of Flashfire, so I don’t know if the story matches, but either this movie was tailored to be more like The Hunter or Westlake had run out of ideas after 19 books. The first act ticks along at a pleasantly brisk pace that made me second guess every negative thing I had heard, but the whole thing grinds to a sudden halt almost the second Jennifer Lopez’s character is introduced and the second act goes underway. It’s not Lopez’s fault (she’s actually pretty good and even charming, given the terrible constraints of the character), but the air is let out of the script and her character represents an unnecessary and unsatisfying waylay on the trip to the climax. All time spent with her and her (also charming) mother represents the wasted potential of an entire crew of bad guys portrayed by enjoyable actors (Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr.) with a cool firefighter gimmick. Without the proper character distinctions during the elongated second act, the baddies are turned into a texture-free wall of angry shouting (most of it empty threats, since we know Parker is basically invincible).

Parker mostly marks Hackford’s first foray into traditional action, though he hasn’t entirely avoided the subject throughout films, like Blood In Blood Out and White Nights. The film’s opening heist sets a good precedent with its unique state fair atmosphere and a solid montage blend of unfolding events. The editing is pristine and the physicality of the scene makes geographical sense. The tension is also appropriately tight and the scene does a lot to set up Statham’s character without unnecessary exposition. As soon as Hackford is handed a car-confined knock-up he starts arbitrarily shaking the camera and over-cutting between angles. Thankfully, the handheld look doesn’t bleed over into the non-action sequences too much, but that high bar set during that first heist is never met again, even during an otherwise well-choreographed fist fight. I had missed that Parker was rated R, instead of the more audience-friendly PG-13, so I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s casual bloody violence. I guess that’s something.



Parker was shot using Red Epic digital HD cameras and looks good and sharp here in 1080p, 2.35:1 video. Hackford and cinematographer Andrew Weisblum take advantage of the format’s dynamic ranges and colour abilities while still maintaining a mostly conventional overall look. What’s interesting about this image is that, despite being a pretty traditional noir, the filmmakers push an eclectic, warm, and bright palette. This is partially inherent in the story’s locations, but Hackford didn’t have to adopt the locations’ natural décor. The colours are quite rich with relative consistency between primary and secondary hues (the greens and reds are mostly synonymous throughout the film), but there hasn’t been any major tinkering with skin tones to make them all look the same (you know, orange). These hues are usually well-separated, without the over-processed blends other Red movies tend to exhibit – though when the story finally hits Florida and pink starts blending into everything. The defining digital-isms are the blooming white levels that include just about every blue sky and sun-baked background. Even the darker settings feature the same harsh highlights, though not often at the risk of some thick blacks (some night-set scenes are flecked with digital noise). The details are very sharp with nice, hard edges and contrasting values over the complex textures. Wide shots aren’t quite as impressive as medium shots and extreme-close-ups, thanks largely to those blown-out whites. In contrast to the relatively consistent daylight imagery, flashbacks are much more stylized with softened edges, even harsher highlights, and more overt colour saturation. These also feature a lot less sharp detail, but don’t have sizable issues with banding effects. I did notice some minor jittering effects as well as low level blocking during fades and the dark shots do feature minor edge haloes.



This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is not the most traditionally bombastic thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s quite strong in a slightly understated fashion. The film opens with an effective ‘montage’ credit sequences that sets up the singular aural universe of a state fair. The sounds of carnival games, whirring rides, circus themes, farm animals, and general human crowd noise are interwoven with David Buckley’s musical score to create a familiar yet vaguely threatening aura, all without punching things up too loudly to lose the dynamic range. This is important as the situation turns volatile and a big, loud fire breaks out, rumbling the LFE and running through the rear channels. The climactic heist begins with a more overt bang and features more directional enhancement, while the fist fights and shoot-outs are plenty busy with whizzing bullets and swishing limbs. The film’s occasionally brisk pacing is supported by a lot of consistent ambient noise that keeps the stereo and surround sounds buzzing, even during the driest dialogue-heavy sequence. Buckley’s music spans different styles and genres, from traditional symphonic stuff to rock and country-inspired guitar and drum stuff. The constant stream of music is relentless, but there’s enough range of volume to keep things from growing too stale or obnoxious. The music mostly sits in the stereo channels and has a punchy LFE presence.



The extras begin with Hackford’s solo commentary track. Hackford is well-prepared and mostly treats the track like a lecture on the entire production. He’s occasionally screen-specific (in fact, the way he brings a sentence to an end at the perfect moment to point something out is almost uncanny), but this is more of a storytelling exercise that more or less revolves around the film’s timeline. There’s a lot of focus on Parker as a character, so even if I’m unsure about the authenticity of his version of the character, it’s clear that Hackford had a crystal clear image of the character in mind. There’s surprisingly little technical jargon, but the production lessons are pretty solid and there’s really no blank space (sometimes, Hackford is left clearly out of breath). All that’s missing is a sense of humility. Hackford isn’t a humourless guy, though. He’s actually pretty jovial and funny – though some of his comedy is a little inadvertent. I particularly enjoyed the bits where he tries to pretend his Louisiana locations look anything like rural Ohio.

Up next is Bringing the Hunter to Life: The Making of Parker (7:30, HD), an EPK featurette that you might have seen if you showed up early to the movie theater last year. It quickly covers the Westlake books, Leslie Alexander’s acquisition, location shooting, and casting. The Origin of Parker (4:20, HD), Broken Necks and Bloody Knuckles (3:40, HD), Who is Parker? (2:30, HD) are more of the same, often literally repeating the same interview and film footage. Interview subjects throughout the EPKs include Hackford, producer Alexander, Westlake’s widow Abigale, stunt coordinator Mike Madda, and actors Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Emma Booth, and Nick Nolte. The disc also features trailers for other Sony releases.



Parker had early promise, but falls into boring territory at the top of the second act and never recovers. Fortunately, the potential hasn’t really been squandered – there are still a handful of good-to-great films based on Donald Westlake’s Parker novels (I highly recommend Boorman’s Point Blank if you haven’t already seen it) and there are even more acceptably entertaining movies where Jason Statham plays a charming rogue. Nothing is gained and nothing is lost (unless you haven’t seen Point Blank). If you think you can handle the indomitable mediocrity, you are in for a very nice 1080p transfer, a continuously busy DTS-HD audio track, a solid commentary, and a series of mostly worthless advertising featurettes.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.