Statham 101: Can he pull off Parker?

Since the news of the upcoming Parker film (and possible franchise) broke, several people have asked me what I thought of Jason Statham in the part.

I didn’t have much of an opinion. As previously noted, my only experience with Statham was in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both of which were ensemble pieces where he was not top billed, and both of which I haven’t seen in a decade or so.

I figured I’d better get educated, so last weekend I decided to put myself through Statham 101. I rented three Jason Statham movies, two of which are his most famous (to me, anyway), and one of which was recommended by Brian Drake in the comments. They were: The Transporter, Crank, and The Bank Job.

The Transporter
is incredibly stupid but highly enjoyable. It reminded me of the heyday of the action hero in the ’80s and early ’90s, when my buddies and I would go see Arnold or Van Damme flicks knowing full well that they would most likely be crap but also knowing we’d most likely have a good time for an hour and a half on a Friday night. I miss movies like that, so while I don’t know that I’ll rent the sequels, I enjoyed The Transporter more than it likely warranted.

Crank is also incredibly stupid, but much less charming. It encapsulates all of the worst traits of recent low- to medium-budget actioners (in my experience–I quit watching them for a reason and as a result am not highly educated in the field). It’s the classic D.O.A. plot mixed with heaping helpings of Run Lola Run, video games and the movies based on and influenced by them, Tarantino without a whit of his wit, and some unpleasant sleaze played for laughs. I can’t say I was bored, but I didn’t like it much.

These films told me little about Statham’s ability to play Parker–Statham was competent in roles that didn’t require much beyond that.

* * *

The Bank Job is another story altogether, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. Forget Statham and Parker for a moment–The Bank Job is a damn good heist film that anyone who likes that sort of thing (and you do, else you wouldn’t be here) should enjoy. Rather fancifully based on the 1971 Baker Street Robbery, The Bank Job is the story of a big-time heist that ends up much bigger than its ambitious protagonists could have possibly imagined. Well-plotted, well-written, well-acted, and suspenseful, The Bank Job was an extraordinarily pleasant surprise.

And, more important for the purposes of my Statham self-study, it gave the man a chance to act.

What did that reveal? That he can.

Statham looks the part of Parker. No, I don’t mean that he’s an exact match of Richard Stark’s description–I don’t particularly care that Statham doesn’t have hair and Parker does. Statham’s physical presence and aura of toughness fit the feel of Parker, and that’s what matters to me.

But portraying Parker properly requires more than just looking the part of a tough guy. Parker’s emotional range is limited, which means that on-screen, a poor actor would just be boring–he wouldn’t be able to put across the subtle menace and the intelligence below the mostly stone-faced surface. This is likely why adapting the literary Parker has only really been attempted once, in the director’s cut of Payback, and even that take threw in a couple of humanizing elements.

Can Statham pull it off? Very possibly. He’s quite convincing in The Bank Job as a working class stiff with options that don’t at all match his ambitions. He plays tough, tender, and troubled, and does fine at all three. Parker will be a step up from The Bank Job, but not nearly as big a step as it would have been from The Transporter.

He may just be able to do it.

Afterthought: My biggest concern with Statham is his accent. Parker is so much an American character that I will have a difficult time not being distracted if he speaks like Jason Statham. Can he master an American accent? Will the producers consider dubbing him if he can’t?

Bonus 101s:

J-Lo 101: Watch Out of Sight if you haven’t seen it. She can do it if she tries.

Michael Chiklis 101: If you haven’t watched “The Shield” yet, you need to.

Almost anyone reading this site will like, quite possibly love, both Out of Sight and “The Shield.”