For a few moviegoers, it is enough that the poster for the movie Parker features a gun-toting Jason Statham front and centre. The Brit actor seems to churn out a new action movie every few months, and he can be relied upon to deliver a certain kind of roundhouse-kick energy to fans of the genre.
But there are better reasons to be excited about this latest adaptation of novelist Richard Stark's violent but fiercely principled anti-hero.
- 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 (a pseudonym for mystery writer Donald E. Westlake, who died in 2008). This is the first Parker movie where the character is actually called Parker.
- Director Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil's Advocate, An Officer and a Gentleman) isn't some action-movie hack, so there was some chance he would treat the material with more respect than that afforded to a typical Jason Statham cinematic knuckle-duster.
- Jennifer Lopez was at her best in the crime-movie milieu -- think: Out of Sight -- and her appearance in Parker offers the promise of a sexy, formidable Lopez, as opposed to the cloying cutie-pie she has presented in rom-coms.
Maddeningly, the Parker movie we deserve remains out of reach. The script by John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) starts promisingly, with an armed robbery at a county fair. Statham's Parker, dressed in a grey wig and a minister's collar, establishes his moral authority while holding a gun on panicky fair employees: "I don't steal from people who can't afford it, and I don't hurt people that don't deserve it."
Notably, two of his confederates (Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins Jr.) are dressed as clowns. No moral authority there.
The heist succeeds, but Parker's partners turn on him and after a fierce fight in the getaway car, they leave him for dead in a ditch. Instead of simply avenging himself on his partners, he manfully recovers from his wounds and follows the gang to the lush environs of filthy-rich Palm Beach. Enlisting the aid of the desperately impoverished real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), Parker disguises himself as a rich oilman and starts casing Palm Beach to determine the gang's next heist.
Hackford strives to give Parker a little respectability. A two-hour running time indicates Hackford's unwillingness to spew out another thrill-a-minute Jason Statham movie, delivering instead a more meticulous revenge thriller. When the thrills do come, Hackford is not squeamish about wince-inducing brutality, especially in a hotel room fight scene between Parker and a particularly vicious hit man.
But the movie mostly botches the source material. This is largely due to casting Statham, an actor who makes so many action movies, his characters have become almost indistinguishable. Director John Boorman's modernist Point Blank is probably closest to the definitive Parker movie on the strength of Lee Marvin's portrayal of the anti-hero as a remorseless killing machine. Marvin, a decorated veteran of the Battle of Saipan, was comfortable portraying a brute.
Statham can't seem to help himself from making Parker a nice guy. And Parker is not a nice guy.
Needless to say, that renders the relationship between Parker and Leslie as a kind of will-they-or-won't-they dynamic more appropriate to a sitcom and not a savage revenge movie.
So, no, this is not the movie that heralds the return of the tough-but-smouldering Jennifer Lopez we briefly loved.
Sorry about that, Parker. Here's hoping you survive to appear in the cineplex in another 15 years.
Selected excerpts of reviews of Parker:
"Tonally, Parker's not so much broad or inclusive as weirdly schizophrenic, vacillating between flat comedy and spiked savagery, the product of a painfully slapdash script."
-- John Semley, Slant
"Even the people who griped about Tom Cruise being cast as the towering Jack Reacher will have to admit Statham fits nicely in Parker's shoes."
-- Connie Ogle, Miami Herald