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Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as 'Ray Owens' in

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Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as 'Ray Owens' in "The Last Stand." (Merrick Morton/Courtesy Lionsgate/MCT)

Parker

"I don't steal from people who can't afford it, and I don't hurt people that don't deserve it."

So says Parker (Jason Statham), a professional thief, during the commission of an armed robbery at a county fair.

Dressed in a grey wig and a minister's collar, Parker establishes his moral authority while holding a gun on panicky fair employees. Notably, two of his confederates (Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins Jr.) are dressed as clowns. No moral authority there.

In any case, the juxtaposition of that particular character and moral authority is a bit of a problem, at least if you're familiar with the source material, the truly hard-boiled novels of Richard Stark (a pseudonym for mystery writer Donald E. Westlake, who died in 2008).

Stark's Parker was an amoral thug, who didn't really object to hurting people who didn't deserve it.

But it's difficult to sympathize with an unrepentant killer, so Statham and director Taylor Hackford soften the character.

Pity. A Parker adaptation happens rarely. Previous movies include Point Blank (1967), The Outfit (1973) and Payback (1999). In each of those cases, the hero's name was changed at the insistence of Stark. This is the first Parker movie where the character is actually called Parker.

Here, Hackford strives to give Parker a little respectability with a two-hour film and a solid cast, including Jennifer Lopez (whose best work, Out of Sight, was in the crime movie milieu).

After Parker's partners turn on him and leave him for dead in a ditch, the indomitable hoodlum recovers from his wounds and follows the gang to the lush environs of filthy-rich Palm Beach. Enlisting the aid of Lopez's desperately impoverished real estate agent Leslie, Parker disguises himself as a rich oilman and starts casing Palm Beach to determine the gang's next heist.

Statham is an actor who makes so many action movies, his characters have become almost indistinguishable. Statham can't seem to help himself from making Parker a nice guy. And Parker is not a nice guy.

John Boorman's modernist Point Blank remains closest to the definitive Parker movie on the strength of Lee Marvin's portrayal of the anti-hero as a remorseless killing machine.

The Parker DVD includes a typical making-of doc that doesn't really delve sufficiently into the Parker mythos. HH1/2 out of five

 

The Last Stand

Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a tentative return to a movie career after eight years governing California at precisely the age most guys are contemplating retirement.

Arnie isn't hanging up his guns just because he's 65. In fact, this movie contrives a reason for him to shoot very old guns, including a Vickers repeating gun that looks not unlike the weapon of mass destruction utilized at the climax of The Wild Bunch.

It's all a calculated demonstration of he's-still-got-it potency: The gun may be old and a little rusty, but it works just fine, thanks.

Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens, the sheriff of a sleepy town on the border between Arizona and Mexico. He was once a Los Angeles narcotics cop, and he's apparently moved to Sommerton Junction to live out the remainder of his law enforcement career in relative peace.

But it is not to be. A Mexican drug cartel leader named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) has escaped FBI custody in a souped-up Corvette ZR1 and is heading to Mexico (at speeds exceeding 200 mph) with a hostage female agent (Genesis Rodriguez) in the passenger seat. Because a deep gorge separates the town from Mexico, the arrogant FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) in pursuit of Cortez readies a small army at the criminal's presumed destination.

But Sommerton's small police force learns something is wrong. Cortez's icy henchman Burrell (Peter Stormare) has arrived in town with his own small army of mercenaries in preparation for Cortez's arrival. It falls on Owens and his outgunned, beleaguered police force to take on the bad guys sporting the latest in assault technology.

That particular aspect of the plot puts Owens at the door of Lewis (Johnny Knoxville), the eccentric proprietor of a "gun museum" (a.k.a. personal arsenal).

Knoxville's shameless mugging and antic craziness belong in another movie. His presence feels like a prank -- as if the japesters of Jackass had somehow invaded the set of an Arnie movie.

Otherwise, director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) strives mostly to give Schwarzenegger a little dignity and largely succeeds. HH1/2

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 ??65520

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