“Eventually, all of the pretty surfaces fade away and the story’s blandness becomes all too noticeable. Even the most pedestrian action fan will be able to tell how this is all going to turn out. I should also mention that the studio also didn’t want any reviewers to write anything about the film until opening day, which is never a good sign.”
Parker (2013), Movie Review
Taylor Hackford’s adaptation of late author Donald E. Westlake’s bestselling novels, Parker (2013), is the kind of star-studded dud that reminds you why January is known as Hollywood’s favorite dumping ground for agonizing films that really couldn’t be released at any other time of the year. Of course, Parker has been brought to the screen before in films like Point Blank, The Outfit, and Jean Luc-Godard’s Made in U.S.A. where Parker was re-imagined as a female protagonist played by Anna Karina. This one based off of Flashfire, one of the twenty-four novels. Let’s just say Mr. Hackford makes Tom Cruise’s recent similar decades-old literary adaptation, Jack Reacher, look like an avant-garde masterwork in comparison.
Empty calories British action star Jason Statham plays Parker. Parker is known to generations of readers as a master career thief who actually has ethics when it comes to honor amongst thieves (which is never the best trait). The film starts off with a promising set-piece opener set in, of all places, the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. Parker and a group of other thieves (Michael Chiklis, Wendell Parker, Micah A. Hauptman and Clifton Collins, Jr.) decide to rob it since the ticket sales rank up past a cool million. Not surprisingly, things do not go as planned and Parker is betrayed and ends up shot and left for dead in a ditch. I guess these thieves did not pay much attention to the fact that one does not do anything that Parker does not want them to do, lest he come up with a meticulous revenge ploy against them. It is this golden rule that really doesn’t distinguish Parker from any other action hero. He also basically believes in robbing from the rich and giving to the poor- Robin Hood style- but that kind of goes without saying. Parker tells his mentor (Nick Nolte) that what he does is never about the money. I found that statement to be hypocritical at best and foolish at worst. Things only escalate from there.
After this rather overlong introduction, the action cuts to sunny Palm Beach, Florida. This is where $50 million in jewels will be stolen from an auction that Parker decided to get himself almost-murdered by expressing no interest in. Even though Parker already has an extraneous girlfriend who doesn’t do much in the film (Emma Booth), the producers felt they needed another female love interest that looks like she would actually be stuck in the humidity of Florida her whole life, barely surviving. This character, Leslie, is played by none other than Jennifer Lopez. Leslie is down on her luck and has her entire life falling apart (something I refuse to believe would ever happen to someone looking like JLo). She’s deep in debt, having her car repossessed, divorced from her bankrupt ex, failing at her real estate job (something else I refuse to believe would happen to someone looking like Jennifer Lopez in Palm Beach), and living with her soap opera-addicted mother (Patti LuPone). Leslie’s only real talent, it seems, is her extensive knowledge of literally every house in Palm Beach, which Parker utilizes well. In a botched attempt to give Mr. Statham any kind of acting challenge, Parker puts on a cowboy hat and talks in a horrible Texan accent, saying he’s from San Antonio. Leslie doesn’t buy it and somehow uses her real estate powers to steal his driver’s license to do an extensive background check, which I’m not even sure is legal. Parker is also a horrible tell, as he only seems interested in the one dilapidated house that Leslie shows him, where all the crime is bound to happen.
Of course, this isn’t Leslie’s movie. Despite this, the filmmakers give Miss Lopez way too much screen time to flaunt her still-developing acting abilities, along with her admittingly gorgeous physical assets. I’m guessing they did this b/c they assumed she would still be a judge on American Idol when this got released. Leslie is shown to be an intelligent person undercut by circumstances, but she’s too bland yet aggressive to be funny and has zero chemistry with her male counterpart (not that that has ever stopped JLo before). Try as she might, Miss Lopez has never exactly been a relatable (or even sympathetic) screen presence, despite her incredible success in films like Out of Sight. At one point, Parker tells her that she will not be able to really do anything with the cut of the money she will be getting from Parker once the dust settles. Miss Lopez’s reaction doesn’t register much beyond “fat chance, idiot.” She’s just too domineering and willing to coast on her beauty to ever really disappear into any character. That has never been more obvious than it is here. Parker won’t cheat on his girlfriend with Leslie b/c of his code of honor. The fact that I don’t buy that doesn’t really matter. Parker and Leslie just don’t seem to mesh well together in the first place and never earn the audience’s interest. Why these esteemed filmmakers never seem to realize this might be the most intriguing thing about this film.
Given the current political climate, the violence of the film is sure to be debated. I must say, even for a mainstream Jason Statham film, the overqualified Mr. Hackford didn’t feel any particular need to restrain any violent act for the sake of any subtlety. Surprisingly, this actually works in the film’s favor as it distracts the audience’s attention away from Parker and Leslie’s uninteresting characters and single-handedly saves the film from becoming a total bore. The best you can say, though, is at least Hollywood is showing an action star actually getting hurt when he fights. Violence is what drives Parker’s character, not romance or slippery ethics. Mr. Statham excels at only this, and knows it. At the same time, Mr. Hackford creates a pervasive atmosphere with Palm Beach complements, but doesn’t exactly handle the transition from scene to scene with much variability. Every scene seems to crash into each other with the feel of a slap across the face. It’s just clunky direction all the way around with some haphazard editing thrown in. Why exactly does Leslie’s mother help out a total stranger covers in cuts and bruises. Luckily, the serviceable cinematography by J. Michael Muro helps to disguise this. Eventually, all of the pretty surfaces fade away and the story’s blandness becomes all too noticeable. Even the most pedestrian action fan will be able to tell how this is all going to turn out. I should also mention that the studio also didn’t want any reviewers to write anything about Parker until opening day, which is never a good sign.
On a more upbeat note, Boardwalk Empire and Nurse Jackie’s Bobby Cannavale has a small role as Leslie’s much more ideal potential love interest, Jake Fernandez. While the story kind of leaves him out to sea without much to do, it’s nice to see Mr. Cannavale starting to get more noticeable mainstream film roles. Maybe he should have his own action franchise. At least he would be more interesting to watch than any Mr. Statham manages to do.
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