Judge Patrick Bromley can't stop laughing at the site of Cowboy Jason Statham.
To get away clean, you have to play dirty.
I'm a sucker for Jason Statham. He's the Real Deal—one of the few genuine action stars to be crowned in the post-'90s era. It hardly matters that a lot of the movies he makes aren't what one might technically consider "good"; if he's in a movie (and Uwe Boll didn't direct it), there's a good chance I'm going to see it.
Casting Statham in yet another interpretation of Donald Westlake's Parker character (who has appeared on screen before in the brilliant Point Blank and Payback) in a movie directed by Taylor Hackford seems like a no brainer. You get the hard-edged, revenge-minded badass and the pedigree of an Oscar-nominated filmmaker. Could this be one of the few Statham movies to actually earn some respect?
Facts of the Case
Based on the novel Flashfire, Donald Westlake's 19th Parker story, Parker casts Jason Statham as the titular professional thief, who is hired on to a job by Melander (Michael Chiklis, Fantastic Four). After the job is pulled, Melander and his crew shoot Parker, take his cut and leave him for dead. Unfortunately for them, he doesn't die; instead, he heals and sets his sights on getting revenge and what is owed to him. He relocates to Palm Beach and poses as a rich Texan, enlisting the services of a down-on-her-luck realtor (Jennifer Lopez, Shall We Dance) to help him track down the men who wronged him and get what he's owed.
Why doesn't Parker work?
So many of the pieces are there. Good source material that's been previously tested and proven to work on screen. Solid director-for-hire who knows how to make an entertaining studio (if generic) studio movie. Great leading man. Good supporting cast, including Jennifer Lopez (sure, ok), Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale and Wendell Pierce. How can a movie that looks so promising on paper sink like a stone?
Answer: pacing and tone. Both are badly handled, and the result is a movie that's too much a mess to like while also being too inconsequential to matter. It's a bad taste that doesn't linger. After a decent but familiar opening heist sequence (that doesn't rank anywhere near even recent heists like the one featured in Killing Them Softly), Parker meanders as Statham recovers from his injuries, reconnects with old friends, finds his girlfriend, makes his plans. This could all be handled in a shorter amount of time and with much, much less conversation, but Parker instead seems to want to unfold in real time. It is one of the longest two hour movies I can remember. Once the action moves to Palm Beach and Jennifer Lopez enters the picture, the tone shifts to become much lighter and almost silly—there is just no other word to describe the scenes in which Jason Statham poses as a cowboy, complete with ridiculous 10-gallon hat and terrible southern accent. If it isn't supposed to laughable, it's a huge mistake. If it is supposed to be laughable, it's too much at odds with the grim revenge story we were just watching, or the shocking violence that's still to come.
Poor Jennifer Lopez. She is fine in this movie, and her presence calls to mind her appearance in the much, MUCH better Out of Sight. The major difference is that she gave her best performance in that movie and had a terrific character to play in Karen Sisco; conversely, her presence in Parker feels tacked on. There is nothing about the character or the performance to even justify its existence—she could be cut out of the movie and it would be no worse for it. Again, this is not the fault of Jenny from the Block. She's fine. She just has nothing to do and no reason to do it.
Taylor Hackford can't seem to decide what kind of movie he wants to make. He pushes the violence to make it edgier, but then the movie never fails to soften Parker when possible, either; in the very first sequence, we see him taking time to help a little girl win a carnival game. Lee Marvin would not have done that. It's possible that this is a beat directly out of Flashfire, which I have not read, but it feels a lot like the kind of Hollywood whitewashing we've gotten used to (just look at the two competing cuts of Payback, and that was 10 years ago—things have gotten worse since then). Parker has a girlfriend to whom he is totally devoted, even though the romance is a complete afterthought and Statham's chemistry with Emma Booth doesn't exist. He has a platonic relationship with Jennifer Lopez during which the movie repeatedly demonstrates what a good guy he is. Parker is supposed to be an antihero. Parker turns him into a regular hero—albeit one with some sociopathic tendencies, but even that is in the name of heroism. And revenge.
That's where Parker distinguishes itself: in its bloodshed. Despite being less of a balls-out action movie than Statham typically stars in, Parker is more violent than just about anything he's done before. The action sequences are few and far between, but when they do come they are crazy bloody: heads meet with all kinds of trauma, gunshots unleash torrents of squibby blood, knives are pushed through hands in agonizing closeup. That alone could make the movie worth seeing, but the scenes are so tonally at odds with the rest of a movie that they're jarring instead of effective—further proof that Hackford is unable to choose a consistent approach to the material and follow through on it.
Sony has done its usual bang-up job on the Blu-ray release of Parker, a title in which the technical presentation is far better than the title it's presenting. The 1080p HD transfer is fantastic, offering excellent film-like detail. Because of the Palm Beach setting, this is a sunnier, more colorful film than the grim and gritty action movies in which Statham often stars, and the video presentation brings out the best in the film's photography. The lossless DTS-HD audio track is equally great, with clear dialogue, thundering action sequences and tons of interesting and subtle surround effects. It is immersive in a way that the movie doesn't even earn. Sony's Blu-ray of Parker looks and sounds better than the movie itself.
Director Taylor Hackford sits down for a solo commentary track, and he's been directing studio movies for long enough that he has plenty of interesting things to say about the filmmaking process and is very comfortable articulating his thoughts. Nothing about his discussion is all that revealing, nor does it really increase one's appreciation of Parker, but fans of the movie or of Hackford will find it a breezy two hours. Beyond the commentary, the disc contains only a collection of featurettes focusing on different aspects of the production: one standard making-of piece, two featurettes on the character of Parker and bringing him to the screen (again) and a short piece on the movie's action scenes. Also included is an Ultraviolet digital copy.
Parker should have been Statham's first foray into a more adult, "legitimate" type of crime thriller since his turn in The Bank Job. Instead, it's mostly a bore that comes to life every once in a while when it out-bloodies the actor's usual output. The elements are in place, but the movie never comes together. What a disappointment.
Give me Crank any day.
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