When you sign up to see a Jason Statham movie, you typically know what you're going to get. Someone is going to fuck with the man, he's going to get pissed, and then he's going to make damn sure that those offending parties pay for the rest of the film until he's got his revenge, payback, restitution, etc. It's a pretty simple formula that's tried, true and tested as far as his career is concerned, only some happen to be better than others. But good or bad, the one thing you're always going to be able to take away from the movie is that you were locked into the cool bad-ass-ness of Jason Statham. He has this magnetic screen presence that you're uncontrollably drawn to, which makes his good movies better, his average movies good and his terrible movies watchable. His latest, PARKER, falls somewhere around mediocre on the crime flick scale, but given the opportunity to watch Statham for long stretches of time do his thing, the film winds up being a lot better than it should be. Without Statham, PARKER would be an exercise in stupidity. With him, it's entertainment but only for as long as he's present. The second he walks off-screen, it's dumb city.
This time, you get Statham in the titular role being adapted from Donald Westlake's novel Flashfire (the Parker novels were written under the pseudonym Richard Stark). Over the years, we've seen a few variations of the character borrowed from those pages, namely Lee Marvin's Walker in POINT BLANK and Mel Gibson's Porter in PAYBACK. As a result, Parker's predicament here looks awfully familiar. He's an intelligently precise thief, known for his successful planning in order to pull jobs and land big scores. This time around, he's fronting a five-man crew he's never worked with before, but, through his immaculate attention to detail, they're able to rip off the Ohio State Fair for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 million. But, after this successful heist, Parker is put on the spot with an offer to team up for another job, one which he politely declines. Unfortunately his new team needs his cut of the money to launch their next endeavor, so, when Parker says no, they decide to take it by force, leaving him shot on the roadside, left for dead. Enter the crossing of Jason Statham part of the equation. He's luckily found in the ditch before it's too late, and after recovering from the damage, he's now intent on tracking them down. Cue Jason Statham getting pissed. After securing their location and details of their next gig, he plans to take the fruits of their labor, which should cover the money he was out from the aftermath of the Ohio job, and... oh yeah, he's going to have to take a bit of revenge on them for turning on him. And there's the revenge. I couldn't have drawn up the Statham line of action any better myself.
Statham is always excellent to watch, as he brings this silent charisma to this man of few words but plenty of action persona he's developed for these type of roles. He has a few nice quips to drop in the right moment, but he'd rather kick someone's ass using a fire extinguisher or a chair in order to get answers, rather than getting the run-around from trying to simply ask. After all, when you're dealing with the criminal element, nothing comes easy, unless you're taking the information you need. However, Parker is an interesting character for him to play, as he's a thief with a conscience. Sure, he is well aware of the path in life he's chosen for himself, and he makes no excuses to try to justify it. But he does live by a certain code, a certain set of rules that he is inflexible in deviating from. He doesn't steal from people who can't afford it, and he doesn't hurt people who don't deserve it. Basically, his word is his bond, and he expects it to be yours as well. If he tells you he's going to do something, you best damn well believe he's going to do it. If he asks you to do something, and you follow through, you're golden. If you don't, it's the wrath of Statham you face.
It's a bit cool to see some type of honor among thieves, which goes against the norm, adding a moral compass to this bad guy who isn't entirely bad... He happens to be defined that way by the line of work he's chosen. Parker is an anti-hero of sorts, in that you can't help but root for him, because there's no one else to root for. He's less bad than the bad guys, which makes him somewhat good for lack of options. But once again, it's Statham's cool demeanor that is always in control and never flustered that shines through. Like many of Statham's other past characters, Parker is a man on a mission who will stop at nothing to achieve his set goal, and, as a Staham fan who enjoys watching him take on such tasks, it's always a great bit of fun for me to watch him make someone pay for their transgressions against him.
But outside of Statham, PARKER falls apart rather easily. First, he's saddled with a team of enemies that we barely know anything about... and who aren't all that bright either. If they were going to be so quick to double-cross him for his share of the loot, then why even bother to ask him to join up for the next job anyway, especially if he wasn't essential to pulling it off? If they could try pulling it off with four men, as they later attempt, what's the point of trying to lock up a fifth, when that's only going to lessen their individual shares? Even if you can make that leap though by suspending disbelief over such a moronic approach to planning, this gang of criminals, fronted by Michael Chiklis, who is just ridiculously underused and wasted, is barely around to make their inevitable showdown with Staham matter as much as it should. We see them in flashes to know they're still in on this big score, but the entirety of Parker focuses on Statham's quest to right his wrong. Balancing that with some truly bad dudes would have been a more effective tool in telling that story. Instead we get a bumbling set of crooks who, even in outnumbering Parker, are still nearly overtaken by him one-on-four in their initial efforts to take his money. You never get the sense that Stathan will face any resistance or, for that matter, any difficulty in taking them down later on, so PARKER feels light in scope without any proper or even dangerous nemesis ever set up.
The other major problem with PARKER is the terribly miscast Jennifer Lopez as a failed real estate agent with no knack for selling expensive estates to the well-to-do. She's got her own financial problems, and, as an person who knows the Palm Beach territory, where Parker's opponents are setting up shop, she makes a plea to him to be his insider in town, aiding with his takedown of Chiklis and company. However, if there's one thing I have trouble buying at this point, it's Lopez as this weak, feeble and slightly timid woman. Outside of her romantic comedy fare, we've seen Lopez as a woman who can more than handle herself in films like MONEY TRAIN, OUT OF SIGHT and ENOUGH, so to see her as someone who seems unsure of herself and really stick in a rut that she is unable to get out of on her own is really pushing the boundaries of what I'm willing to accept. That doesn't mean I can't buy her as this vulnerable, down-on-her-luck character... but she doesn't work as such in PARKER. The character absolutely feels wedged into the story as a way to have some type of female presence in what would otherwise be a sausage fest, and her role is compromised by the fact that it's very hard to believe that Parker would use her help when he's been quite alright in the past on his own. Lopez and her character sadly add nothing to the film, outside of a scene where she's forced to strip down to her underwear, which has value for obvious reasons. Otherwise, PARKER would have been better off without her.
To Taylor Hackford's credit, he at least makes PARKER nice to look at, even if, between him and writer John J. McLaughlin, the story seems like a wasted opportunity to really do something smart with this crime thriller. There's no reason why Parker should know how to run his own IV, except out of convenience for the story... or even why such a smart thief would put all his eggs in one basket in recovering his cash or getting his revenge. It'd make for a far more compelling film to watch Parker knock off his enemies one on one to get to the last man standing holding his bag of dollars. Instead it's an all or nothing proposition that limits Statham's action (it's good as usual when it's there) and saddles him with material that should frankly be better. Statham can do better, and Parker, who is well position as a thinking man's criminal, deserves better. PARKER isn't all bad. Statham makes it work as best as he can, and he's always a joy to watch, if his formula for action is your thing. But outside of watching him kick ass, PARKER doesn't have much to offer someone looking for a solid crime flick.
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