Based on the novel “Flashfire” by Donald Westlake, the new crime thriller “Parker” stars English actor Jason Statham (“Expendables 2”) as the title character. In “Parker,” Statham takes the reigns as the iconic professional thief who seeks revenge on a crew that double crosses him.
“Parker” opens at theaters Jan. 25.
There have been a number of different versions of your Parker character over the years in films like “Point Blank” and “Payback.” With this new adaptation, what were you hoping to show audiences?
You know, the Parker [series] is such a good crime thriller that [Donald] Westlake wrote. I mean, he wrote 20+ books. I was just hoping we could make one of those stories into a good film. You just have to do everything you can to do justice to the story.
How much research did you put into this role since the character has such a long literary history?
You know, there’s obviously a lot more in the book than in the 90 minutes we have to tell the story on film. Basically, you just have to give everything to the director and he has to have his own interpretation of the book and tell that story. He can’t be fixated on trying to please the fans of the book. That gets too complicated. The roots of the character are already written in Westlake’s books. Those are great qualities.
What about the style of the character? How does Parker compare to other gun-toting characters you’ve played in the past? Do you have to exude something different to give him that no-nonsense personality?
You know, I tend to not look at any of the other stuff I’ve done. I don’t think it has an influence really. Now, the physical side of Parker is something I’ve spent 10 years doing in other films. But we know how to execute that stuff efficiently. There’s a benefit in what I’ve done in the past with that.
You might not look at your own roles in the past, but what about looking at other actors who have played the Parker character in other films – Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson, and even NFL football player Jim Brown? Did you borrow anything specific from those incarnations or did you want to start on a clean slate?
This is its own thing. We kept Parker’s likable charm and some of the cutting smarts Parker has always had. So, basically, we kept the good stuff.
You’re known for many of the physically demanding roles you’ve taken on in your career. How does the physicality of Parker compare to other films you’ve done?
You know, I’m always getting hurt. It’s just a fact of life with what I do. It’s just like waking up and turning on the lights. It’s like asking a footballer, “Are you going to tackle somebody today?” You run around doing these sequences where you’re jumping out of buildings and cars and you’re bound to get a knock or two.
Is that why you look up to somebody like Jackie Chan so much?
Oh yeah, I have such a huge respect for Jackie Chan. There’s someone who leads by example. It’s great to be inspired by people like that.
Has there ever been a time in your film career when you wanted to do your own stunts and they didn’t allow you?
There have been certain things they haven’t allowed me to do. It’s because they want me to make it to the end of the movie. (Laughs) I remember I was doing a stunt in “Crank” and I was hanging outside a chopper on skis. We choreographed the scene on the ground and then we were going to take it above in the helicopter. They let me do the scene, but not until the very last day we shot the movie. They didn’t want that fucking thing to fall out of the sky. See, that’s the thing. They’ll let you do the stunts, but they want to make sure they have the movie in the bag first.
Why don’t you think a series like Parker has been able to be a consistent one in the film industry like James Bond?
You just don’t know. The audiences want what they want to see. It’s a very unpredictable business and that’s what makes it exciting. If you have a hit movie it’s pretty fantastic. I’m still waiting for that day. (Laughs)
How does Jennifer Lopez stack up to other leading ladies you’ve had in the past?
She’s just a true delight. She was way out of her comfort zone, but it was a great part for her. She brings this real likable street quality that makes her so approachable. She’s just fantastic to be around.
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2″)
Written by: Kelly Asbury (debut), Mark Burton (“Aliens in the Attic”), Kevin Cecil (debut), Emily Cook (debut), Kathy Greenberg (debut), Andy Riley (debut)
William Shakespeare is probably not turning in his grave since his classic stories have been adapted for the big screen in some form or fashion since the beginning of cinema, but with “Gnomeo & Juliet” he has to at least be wondering, “Why?”
The easy answer to that would be because “Gnomeo” rhymes with “Romeo,” the one of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but you can also argue that the cuteness factor of the gnomes themselves was a major selling pitch. More than likely, these fat figurines will easily lure kids and their parents to the theater for a little 3-D hokum. If this finds box-office success, watch out for “The Urchin of Venice.”
Basically following along the same narrative structure as the original play, but replacing all the characters with garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, “Gnomeo” finds itself at an impasse when it refuses to inject anything fresh and exciting into the picture. Instead, the animated film takes the easy way out and makes absurd references to other films just for the sake of referencing something. Sure, these gimmicks can work well when told in context with the story (see “Shrek”), but “Gnomeo” screenwriters go too far when they find ways to force in jokes into the script featuring quotes and images from “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty,” and a host of other unrelated allusions.
Where “Gnomeo” earns a few chuckles is through its use of satire to pick a little fun at Shakespeare himself. Then there’s the actual animation, which is above average when it captures the porcelain features of the garden gnomes and the clanky sounds they would make if they walked or touched each other (like tea cups toasting). Add to that, some fine voice work from an excellent British cast (Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham) and “Gnomeo” isn’t impossible to watch for a short time.
Still, you can almost imagine the ridiculously large group of novice feature film screenwriters attached to this project sitting in a room together tossing ideas and dialogue back and forth and settling on the most obvious gags. Not nearly as funny as it should have been, “Gnomeo” is the first animated film of 2011 and will easily be lost in the shuffle with the other mediocre family films to hit theaters this year. Here to hoping it doesn’t get worse than this.
Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Directed by: Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”) and Lewis John Carlino (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”)
There are some big gun barrels to fill if you’re remaking a 40-year-old movie that originally starred Charles Bronson. Things get a bit easier, however, if your name happens to be Jason Statham.
Coming into his own as a viable B-movie action star over the last few years, Statham takes the lead in a new version of “The Mechanic,” a high-energy popcorn flick that feels like it was pulled straight out of the 70s and given a swift kick to the head.
Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man who begins to train his mentor’s son Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) in the art of assassination after Steve’s father (Donald Sutherland) is caught up in a game of politics within the shadow organization.
“What I do requires a certain mindset,” Arthur tells Steve as the veteran killer teaches the rookie the most effective ways to end someone’s life. While Steve absorbs everything Arthur shows him, he doesn’t always like to take the clean and simple approach to the job.
The different methods in the way Arthur and Steve work make for an extraordinary relationship. Foster, one of the most exciting young actors currently making his rounds through Hollywood, matches up well with Statham’s fever pitch delivery. While both characters are brimming with brutality, it’s Foster’s that is written with more depth and style. You usually know what you’re getting with Statham and he doesn’t disappoint here.
Directed by Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls,” “Con Air”), “The Mechanic” is an unrelenting upgrade with a solid dose ultra violence, sex, and sense of humor. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the action sequences come with a combination of intensity and logic rare to find in movies with high body counts.
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakum
Directed by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank”) and Brian Taylor (“Brian”)
Written by: Mark Neveldine (“Crank”) and Brian Taylor (“Brian”)
In the final scene of the high-impact sequel “Crank: High Voltage,” action star Jason Statham – all bloodied and bruised and flaking away from the fire that has engulfed his broken-down body – looks straight into the camera and shoots his middle finger up in the air to reinforce his badass-ness.
It’s almost like an “f-you” to the audience, actually. “F-you” for sitting through the cinematic equivalent to someone with a neuropsychiatric disorder dropping acid, and “f-you” to anyone walking out of this thing not thinking it’s his best work to date.
Reprising his role as Chev Chelios, Statham, who has made a career out of dingy action flicks with the exception of the more intelligent “Bank Job” last year, starts where he left off from the original 2006 movie. If you don’t recall, at the end of the first one, Chev falls to his presumable death from a helicopter. Before the credits start rolling, however, you hear a faint heartbeat letting you know that a second “Crank” was probably on the horizon all along. Chev, of course, is not dead. He is whisked away into a van by surviving members of the Chinese mob and undergoes underground open heart surgery.
His own heart, which is to be implanted into an old Chinese mobster, is replaced with an artificial one fit with a battery pack to keep him alive. When Chev escapes his medical lair, a makeshift hospital where doctors are to harvest the rest of his organs, he sets off to find his real heart before he flatlines.
If you’re anticipating brainlessness for a quick 96 minutes of empty fun, you’ll be satisfied with the way the first 20 minutes play out as Chev goes ballistic on everyone he sees. This includes a scene where he sticks a shotgun barrel up the butt of a cholo. He also has time to reconnects with his girl Eve (Amy Smart) at a local strip club, meets Venus (Efren Ramirez), the twin brother of now-deceased Kaylo (also played by Ramirez) from the original, and keeps his buddy Doc (Dwight Yoakum) updated on his heart condition via cell phone.
“If you can get a hold of your heart,” Doc tells him, “I’m reasonably sure I can put it back in for you.” Is there any better reason to continue with this charade?
There’s no room for reality in “Crank: High Voltage,” and that’s what keeps it pumping for the first few scenes. However, the film turns into a check list of ways Chev can keep his heart pumping (i.e. sex on a horseracing track, jumper cables on his nipples) before the bad guys enter in for another beat down. If you’re down with Statham’s previous line of work, you’ll more than likely be pleased with “High Voltage.” Everyone else probably would get more of a jolt sticking any appendage in a wall socket.
Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson (“AVP: Alien Vs. Predator”)
Written by: Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”)
If “Speed Racer” wasn’t enough to satisfy your need for future NASCAR-racing concepts, then “Death Race” might add a little more fuel to the fire for those who like their asphalt track chock-full of human remains.
A remake of the 1975 sci-fi action flick “Death Race 2000,” which starred David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, “Death Race” is set only four years into the future. Forget the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. When the U.S. economy hits rock bottom, the face of sports entertainment changes so drastically, people are paying money to watch a group of felons kill each other on the racetrack on TV. Another cliché film about America’s blood lusting for violence in the media? That would be giving “Death Race” entirely too much credit.
Recruited by the prison’s stone-cold warden (Joan Allen), Jensen Ames (Jason Statham), who is thrown into the pen after being falsely convicted of killing his wife, is told that he can win his freedom back by secretly replacing one of the prison’s best drivers, Frankenstein, who was unknowingly killed in the last race.
Hoping to one day see his little girl again, Jensen accepts her offer and is teamed up with a few greaser cons who strap him into a supped-up black Mustang to go head to head with other twisted-metal vehicles equipped with machine guns and other dastardly weapons. Along with his boys in the pit, Jensen is matched with Case (Natalie Martinez), a tight-bodied co-driver brought in from a women’s prison facility (hint: she’s cast for the sex appeal) for the three-day event.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“AVP: Alien Vs. Predator”), “Death Race” is rip-roaring fast, sleazy, and mind-numbing. While Anderson gets some cool points for a few exciting loops around the track, his screenplay misses its opportunity to give its characters some life behind their deadened eyes. Instead, Anderson focuses on the gruesome deaths, Allen’s bitchy and underwritten persona, and keeping the camera on Martinez’s assets.
If you’re accepting of all low-brow entertainment no matter how tacky, “Death Race” will probably be your new favorite sport pastime. If you don’t want to risk it, you can get the same effect by reading a lowrider magazine while stabbing yourself in the leg with a rusty nail. Tetanus anyone?