A film review by Craig J. Koban January 30, 2013


2013, R, 118 mins.

Parker: Jason Statham / Leslie Rodgers: Jennifer Lopez / Malander: Michael Chiklis / Carlson: Wendell Pierce / Ross: Clifton Collins Jr. / Hardwicke: Micah A. Hauptman / Jake: Bobby Canavale / Hurley: Nick Nolte

Directed by Taylor Hackford / Written by John J. McLaughlin / Based on the novel "Flashfire" by Donald E. Westlake.

I’ve run out of ways over the years to describe the simplistic efficiency of the Jason Statham action film.  I guess that I fancy myself as somewhat of an apologist of his body of work.  His notable genre films – from the TRANSPORTER and CRANK entries to KILLER ELITE - have never really allowed Statham to stand far and away outside of his already narrow comfort zone as a performer, but they nonetheless are not really supposed to.  Like, say, the fierce unpretentiousness of the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film canon of the 1980’s, Statham knows precisely what his very audience demands out of him and he wholeheartedly delivers.  

His newest film, PARKER, further establishes and emphasizes the Stathamian brand of action cinema – uncompromisingly brutal and take-no-prisoners standoffs, high body counts, and many scenes of the star effortlessly exuding cool bravado in the most dire of circumstances – while superficially engaging in a fairly perfunctory revenge/heist storyline that never really strays away from any type of predictable genre beats or twists.  The only things that seem to get in the film’s way of emerging as a truly satisfying whole is its length - at nearly two hours, it’s perhaps a bit too bloated considering its narrative contrivances and relative straightforwardness – and the way the underlining revenge plot gets a bit derailed by far too many superfluous side characters and subplots.  Statham's films work at their capable best when the spotlight is on him in all of his gravel voiced, square-jawed, and fist and teeth clenched machismo mowing down adversary after adversary to achieve his end-game.  So, why strain focus away from that? 

Intriguingly, PARKER is based on a five-decade old literary property.  The character of Parker was created by Donald Westlake and has appeared in two-dozen of his novels penned under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  Even more compelling is that (a) PARKER is not the first time that the character has graced the silver screen (he appeared in the Lee Marvin-lead POINT BLANK from 1967 and, more recently, Mel Gibson’s PAYBACK from 1999) and (b) the film is directed by – shocker! – Taylor Hackford of RAY, AND OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, and THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE fame, making his first foray in action film waters.  For a filmmaker as relatively acclaimed as Hackford, it seems both beneath his talents to helm an enjoyably disposable action thriller like PARKER and kind of delightful for him to try something new. 



Nonetheless, Hackford directs with a fairly straight-laced and unobtrusive style to draw attention to PARKER’s real draw, which is Statham himself.   Based on the 2000 novel FLASHFIRE by Westlake, PARKER begins with a literal and figurative bang: A fairly ingenious and well planned Ohio State Fair-centered heist ensues that robs it of a cool million bucks.  The perpetrators are Parker (Statham) and his motley crew of thieves, Malander (Michael Chiklis), Carlson (Wendell Pierce), Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Hartman (Michah Haumtman), the latter who has big connections to the Chicago mob.   The heist goes relatively well, aside from one major hiccup that annoys Parker to no end, and in the getaway van Malander places an ultimatum on him: he must put up his share of the robbed money towards their next bigger score…or else.  Well, because this is a Statham action thriller and his characters usually live by their own moral loner code, he politely declines, which leads to his team turning on him and leaving him for dead. 

However, much like an early 1990’s Steven Segal, Parker is hard to kill, and he recuperates from his near-fatal injuries and gun shot wounds and plans to get even with the help of his wise old mentor (the perpetually hoarse-voiced Nick Nolte, looking satisfyingly grizzled).  Parker's revenge plot takes him to Palm Beach where – through events too complicated to explain – he impersonates a rich Texan that wants to buy real estate close to where his former gang is hanging out and plotting their next heist.  Inadvertently, his plans gets a bit derailed when he comes in contact with a beautiful, but desperate and down-on-her-luck realtor named Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), who – once she realizes Parker’s real identity and plan – wants in. 

Oddly enough, Lopez is both one of the film’s sublime surprises and a source of one of its nagging weaknesses.  She seems to have spent the better part of her recent career in one mournfully awful romcom after another, so it’s really refreshing to see her de-glam and immerse herself in a more low-key and unassuming supporting role.  She also balances her overt sex appeal with a goofy irreverence that counterbalances the film's high testosterone quotient.  Unfortunately, her character is not entirely germane to the overall story other than to give it some window dressing (one flirtatious scene has her stripped down to display her infamous underwear adorned rear end) and comic relief.  She has, though, some very natural chemistry with Statham and the pair work effortlessly off of one another – even while the Brit does a horribly inadequate job of convincing her and the audience that he’s a cowboy from Texas.  Yet, there’s no denying that Lopez's character – for as chipper and appealing as she is here –  could have been excised altogether. 

The plotting woes also gets the better of other supporting characters, who appear and then disappear at will, like Bobby Caravelle’s bumbling cop with eyes on Leslie and Nick Nolte’s mentor figure, whose allegiances and motives seem murky at best.  The film also commits some unpardonable narrative sins of illogic as it spirals to its blood spattered conclusion, like how the final standoff between Parker and his former friends is orchestrated  (well placed firearms are secretly hidden by Parker throughout their hideout, never once being discovered by the goons, not to mention that the way Parker tampers with all of their firearms that are later never checked by them illicits a lot of eye rolling).  I’m also not altogether sure that Leslie – a shy and timid real estate agent – would ever get in as far as she does by the film’s ending, risking life and limb.  And, for that matter, how do Malander and his cronies manage to steal a fire truck and impersonate fireman as easily as they do as part of their absurdly orchestrated heist?  Beats me. 

PARKER is about one or two screenplay drafts away from being yet another in an inexhaustible number of serviceably entertaining and well-oiled Statham action films.  Hackford, yes, may be slumming it here, but he gives us action scenes with a crisply invigorating wallop and Statham himself, as per usual, completely loses himself in his umpteenth pitiless, dexterous, no-nonsense, and heavily bruised and bloodied anti-hero role that we’ve all come to expect from him.  PARKER certainly has the efficiency of Statham past action films, but lacks a bit a discipline to be considered a truly satisfying genre film worthy of your investment.  

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