Jason Statham in Parker.
Jason Statham in Parker.

JASON Statham, probably the most credible of the current crop of action stars, plays the title role in PARKER, a film reliant almost totally on him rather than on Jennifer Lopez, his co-star.

As tough as he has to be to suffer and inflict pain, Statham also manages to suggest a latent sensitivity, a quality he needs as much as he does principles because his Parker is a skillful thief with a strict code which, when broken or ignored by others, brings out the best, or worst, in him.

Taylor Hackford, the director, opens this thriller with a well-staged heist at a funfair; Parker and his gang escape with the loot but his associates decide to increase their share of the ill-gotten gains by reducing the number of partners.

Left for dead, Parker stages a miraculous recovery from wounds that would have crippled a lesser mortal and, righteously vengeful, he sets out to punish the untrustworthy, ignoble former colleagues who betrayed him by going to Florida, the site he believes of their next job.

It is there that he encounters Leslie (Lopez), a real estate agent whose ethics are the opposite of his; she lives with her demanding mother (Patti LuPone) and has debts she is unable to pay but she surmises that the phoney Texan millionaire — Parker’s transparent disguise — is not genuinely interested in buying a house, just in locating his erstwhile allies’ present hideout.

Hackford’s career has hardly been distinguished or consistent but he did direct An Officer and a Gentleman and, more recently, Ray, an impressive biography of Ray Charles; he also made White Nights with Helen Mirren, whom he subsequently married. Here he displays a surprisingly deft touch in the numerous action sequences and does not shrink from depicting the violence that is expected of Statham.

In one scene, Parker disposes of his opponent by crowning him with the lid of a cistern, the same weapon and method he used to similar effect a couple of years ago in Chaos.

As for J-Lo, she shows an unexpected flair for comedy and, less importantly, a willingness to strip down to her underwear — in a sequence that is both gratuitous and inconclusive — so that Parker can be sure she is not concealing a recording or transmitting device.

Incidentally, this film is based on Flashfire, one of a series of novels featuring the honourable yet ruthless Parker, by the late Donald Westlake, aka Richard Stark, who protected his creation by refusing to allow any adaptations to use his surname. Thus, in Point Blank, Lee Marvin was named Walker and in Payback, its remake, Mel Gibson was Porter.

An occasionally awkward mix of humour and mayhem, yet still enjoyable for its lack of pretension, Parker should satisfy Statham’s fans who, for once, are rewarded with partial nudity to compensate for iffy dialogue, dodgy acting and at least one plot device that doesn’t make sense.

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SO UNDERCOVER features Miley Cyrus in a part that requires acting techniques clearly not within her limited range. She plays Molly who helps her dad, a private eye, in cases that hinge on photographic evidence of infidelity; her talent comes to the attention of Armon (Jeremy Piven), an FBI agent who persuades her to take a step up the detection ladder by posing as a student at a posh college for the daughters of rich parents.

The object is to provide protection for Alex (Lauren McKnight) whose father is about to rat on criminals. Molly, now rejoicing in the name Brook Stoneridge, has to face the usual closed, territorial sorority jealous of its status and, therefore, suspicious of any newcomer, especially if she carries a gun.

This particular group is headed by Sasha (Eloise Mumford) and her constant, sycophantic companions are played by a trio of young women supplemented by Kelly Osbourne as Molly/Brook’s roommate.

Inconsequential, unoriginal and aimed primarily at Cyrus’s millions of admirers, this attempt to present a teen queen with the opportunity to be seen as an adult, more or less, is directed by Tom Vaughan who made Starter for 10, the story of an undergraduate who paid a terrible price for cheating on a TV quiz show.

So Undercover, a much lighter piece, has only an academic setting in common with Vaughan’s earlier film and might well have been called Non-starter for Miley or even Undercooked because, despite a vast potential audience, it seems not to have been released in the US.