Parker (United States, 2013)January 25, 2013
Parker delivers just about what the average viewer would expect from it: a Jason Statham-flavored action thriller (as opposed to, say, a Matt Damon-flavored action thriller or a Rock-flavored action thriller). Statham, like John Wayne in his heyday and Arnold Schwarzenegger during the '80s, doesn't feel compelled to challenge himself as an actor. This reticence fills a market niche and rewards his fans with bloody, violent cinematic "comfort food" on a regular basis. Statham's movies hit more often than they miss. Parker falls into the same category as endeavors like The Transporter and Crank in that it will probably satisfy those who identify Statham as a draw but do little to expand his legion of followers. There's nothing surprising or inventive about Parker's storyline - it's a straightforward revenge/heist film that hits all the necessary beats and features a number of violent confrontations and solid action scenes. With an able assist from accomplished director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray), Statham carries a film that doesn't demand much in the way of heavy lifting.
The movie is based on the 2000 novel Flashfire by Donald Westlake (writing under his "Richard Stark" pseudonym). Although Parker appeared regularly in Westlake's novels (there are 24 of them), this is (sort of) his inaugural screen appearance. Parker stories have previously been adapted but none has retained the lead character's name. For example, in Payback, a version of The Hunter, Mel Gibson played "Porter" not "Parker". In terms of the revenge-slanted rhythms of how Parker progresses, it's like Payback, although the inclusion of a secondary storyline with Jennifer Lopez occasionally bogs down the narrative trajectory. Ultimately, Parker's greatest weakness isn't the familiarity of the material but its tonal inconsistencies and inability to maintain momentum. Lopez's character is superfluous; the movie might have worked better without her.
The movie opens in impressive fashion, detailing the five-man heist of $1 million from the Ohio State Fair. Parker (Statham) is the leader. His team includes muscle guys Melander (Michael Chiklis) and Carlson (Wendell Pierce), the shaggy-haired Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.), and the sniveling Hartman (Michah Hauptman), who has connections in the Chicago mob. The job is successful but, during the car ride home, the other thugs turn on Parker. After being shot and jumping from a moving car, he's left for dead in a ditch. But Parker isn't that easy to kill and, with help from his old mentor (Nick Nolte) and his devoted girlfriend, Claire (Emma Booth), he begins planning his revenge with a trip to Palm Beach, where the rest of the gang is plotting a big score. While there, Parker hooks up with Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a desperate and ambitious realtor who wants a cut of whatever Parker is getting.
Although Statham is playing Statham, at least Lopez attempts to distance herself from the romantic comedy dead zone into which her acting career has tracked. This isn't a return to the form she showed in Out of Sight, her silver screen high point, but it's at least better than tripe like Maid in Manhattan and The Back-Up Plan. The problem with Leslie isn't that she's badly acted but that she has no real reason to be in the movie beyond providing a little sex appeal (there's a gratuitous bikini underwear shot) and comedic relief. The character isn't well developed, her potential romance with Parker is short-circuited because he's devoted to Claire, and her role in the climax is incidental. The 15-to-20 minutes devoted to Claire's backstory damages Parker, slowing things down and turning what should be a breezy 90 minute romp into something overlong and uneven. That's the downside of hiring a "name" like Lopez instead of a lesser-known actress: the ego-driven need for her to have significant screen time.
Parker includes copious amounts of exposition, some of which is necessary and some of which could have been eliminated or reduced. The action scenes are crisply directed, brutal, and invigorating. There are several of them and, in the aftermath of two, Parker is left a bloody mess. He may have superhero tendencies but he's not indestructible. When one considers Mel Gibson's Porter in Payback, it's not hard to see the synergy between the two interpretations. Parker is an anti-hero but, like all effectively portrayed anti-heroes, we have no trouble rooting for his revenge to play out in a satisfying manner. Which, of course, it does.
Parker (United States, 2013)
Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Michah Hauptman, Clifton Collins Jr., Emma Booth, Nick Nolte
Screenplay: John J. McLaughlin, based on the novel Flashfire by Richard Stark
Cinematography: J. Michael Muro
Music: David Buckley
U.S. Distributor: FilmDistrict