Parker is the latest film to feature author Richard Stark’s literary character on the big screen, though it’s surprisingly the first to actually refer to him as “Parker.” Mel Gibson played the same dude in Payback but he went by “Porter,” Lee Marvin’s character was called “Walker” in Point Blank, and now it’s Jason Statham’s turn to play the career criminal with a chip on his shoulder. But regardless of the name, this movie couldn’t make the lead character interesting or memorable, leaving Statham and the rest of the cast trudging through an anemic script under a director with no sense of style.
Parker (Statham) is your standard thief who lives by a code – don’t steal from those who can’t afford it, and don’t hurt innocent people – and he’s been living like this for a long time. He loves his wife (or girlfriend, not sure if that was ever made explicitly clear) but her father (Nick Nolte) has no problem hooking him up with potentially easy scores around the country. The film opens with one of these, a convoluted heist at a state fair in Ohio from which the team (including Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins, Jr. and one other not-so-famous guy) barely escapes with their loot. But when Parker doesn’t agree to donate his share of the spoils toward a bigger gig the gang has coming up, they shoot him and leave him for dead on the side of the road. Big mistake.
But after a halfway decent set-up, the movie begins to drag and never picks back up. Parker begins to initiate a series of moves that make little to no sense for someone of his supposed intellect, the worst of which includes him wearing a cowboy hat, speaking with one of the worst Texas accents I’ve ever heard and creating an elaborate backstory for this Texan character in order to discover where his former teammates purchased a house in West Palm Beach, Florida, so he can exact his revenge. Of course, the annoying real estate agent (Jennifer Lopez) gets caught in the mix, and while these sorts of intricate plot details might work in the pages of a crime novel, the story beats translate horribly to the pace of an action film.
The thing about most movies is that we’ve likely seen the basic plot in another film somewhere else, and that might be doubly true for action movies. So when another familiar story comes into theaters, one of the surefire ways to get movie lovers to check it out is to shake things up a bit with the presentation. There was a time when you used to be able to cast a superstar and that would be enough to bring people in. But even though The Last Stand (another action film currently in theaters) featured the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the studio still hired Korean director Kim Jee-woon because his kinetic visual style would spice up the screenplay a little. Hiring Jason Statham indicates the studio wanted a certain type of movie, but bringing on director Taylor Hackford (Ray, The Devil’s Advocate) was not the person to actualize that vision.
Discounting 2010’s Love Ranch – because, really, who’s ever heard of that movie? – Hackford hasn’t made a feature film since 2004’s Ray, and it seems that he’s lost whatever touch he may have once had. Parker is completely passionless, and even the sequences that should be exciting (the occasional heist and action climax) are devoid of anything compelling. Hackford is the current president of the Director’s Guild of America and has eighteen credits to his name, so it’s clear he knows the technical aspects of putting a film together; that being said, you can practically feel his apathy oozing through the screen, seemingly infecting every performance and filmmaking decision along the way. Even the moments in which the film desperately tries to try to comment on something vaguely engaging – a ham-fisted Robin Hood metaphor here, a critique about the decadence of the rich there – all fall flat.
Chief among this film’s many faults, though, was casting Jennifer Lopez in a lead role. Her character is a walking disaster, but you can’t blame that on Jenny from the block. (The blame for that, and the rest of this godawful script, falls on writer John J. McLaughlin.) Lopez is simply miscast, never imbuing her character with a personality or the emotional heft needed for us to care about what happens to her. Maybe hiring her was political, or maybe the studio thought her presence would ensure a specific audience quadrant, but her work here feels about as cold as the decision to bring her on board. The audience is supposed to be invested in whether or not she ends up with Statham’s character, but the movie’s dull narrative and cliched plot points stacked the deck against her; any actress would have had to have possessed an incredible amount of charm and screen presence to breathe life into that character, and Lopez has nothing of the sort.
The supporting cast is rounded out by people whose work I respect and admire in other things, but they’re all totally wasted here. Michael Chiklis, who was a force to be reckoned with as the morally complex Vic Mackey on FX’s “The Shield,” is reduced to a second-rate bruiser without a brain. Wendell Pierce, who played the terrific Bunk Moreland on HBO’s “The Wire,” is relegated to a leering idiot who speaks maybe ten lines in the whole film. Clifton Collins, Jr.’s character has even less personality and even less to say and do. It’s like the casting director thought the same thing we did – “hey, these guys are good, let’s get them!” – but they all forgot to read the script before signing on. Or again, perhaps they felt pressured to work with Hackford because of his position in the DGA. Either way, the fact that I’m talking about this and can’t tell you one interesting thing that any of these people did in the whole film tells you all you need to know about how effective they are as characters.
I’d like to respond in advance to any criticisms in the vein of “what did you expect? It’s a Jason Statham movie?” by pointing out that just because Statham leads a film doesn’t mean it has to be bereft of value. The Bank Job isn’t great, but it’s not a total slog to sit through like Parker, and last year’s Safe was actually one of the better movies he’s toplined even though its premise was far dumber than this film’s. Parker should have been an enjoyable heist flick, but thanks to some miserable decision-making on nearly every conceivable level (even the score, production design, and costumes are subpar), it’s instead the sort of pathetic attempt that just makes you feel sorry for those involved. Until next time…