– Summary –
Director : Taylor Hackford
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr, Bobby Cannavale, Patti Lupone, Emma Booth, Carlos Carrasco, Daniel Bernhardt.
Approx Running Time : 118 Minutes
Synopsis: Professional thief Parker is double-crossed after a successful heist. After recovering, he tracks his quarry to Palm Beach, seeking revenge. While he plans his vengeance, he meets flat-broke realtor Leslie, and they team up to steal back millions in jewellery.
What we think : Stylish thriller doesn’t ever seem to get out of second gear, even when it’s pumping along thanks to David Buckley’s generic action score, and although Statham and Lopez have plenty of chemistry, the film makes little use of it. It’s the kind of film Statham could do in his sleep (and often does), although even with Taylor Hackford behind the camera, Parker isn’t anything significantly new or different. Best term to describe it? Serviceable.
Like his action star predecessors, Jason Statham has made something of a career out of playing the same character from film to film: the likeable, hard-as-nails criminal type with a “heart of gold”. From his debut in Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, to recent fare like Blitz, The Killer Elite, Chaos and the Expendables movies, Statham’s stock-in-trade character is the bruising, mean-machine underworld figure who lays on a mean smackdown. While the majority of his films, especially the last several, have begun to feel almost cookie-cutter in effort and same-same, Statham at least understands that this genre isn’t supposed to be high art, and plays his parts accordingly. It’s not entirely his fault, given the propensity of action films revolve around either hitmen, heists or flat-chat shoot-em-up’s, that his last few headline films have featured him in almost interchangeable roles – his characters in The Mechanic, Safe and now Parker could be swapped from film to film and nobody’d be any the wiser. His detractors might say that his films are largely rote, generic and service the most B-level of Hollywood output, but at least he’s making films consistently, even if they are rather lame. Parker, directed by Taylor (Ray, The Devil’s Advocate, An Officer & A Gentleman) Hackford, is based on one of a series of pulp crime novels written by the late Donald Westlake, although you’d never think it from the outside; the film doesn’t seem terribly new, nor do any of the characters raise the pulse in terms of originality. But is the film itself any good purely for entertainment? Does it slip into the Good Jason Statham category, or the Bad Jason Statham category?
Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional thief. After a job goes successfully, he and the group of men he’s with escape with just over a million dollars. When one of the men, Melander (Michael Chiklis) offers Parker a share in a future crime, and Parker refuses, and is promptle shot for his trouble. Left for dead, Parker is found by passers-by and taken to hospital, where he begins to recuperate. Seeking the money he is owed by Melander and his crew, Parker tracks them to Palm Beach, Florida, where he learns they’re planning to steal a substantial fortune in jewellery from a deceased estate at auction. While he scouts the area, Parker enlists the aide of Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez), a real estate agent current suffering financial troubles thanks to a bad divorce. Parker, having sent his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) and her father Hurley (Nick Nolte) to safety, uses Leslie to gain access to Melander’s current hideout, promising her a share of whatever he steals back from them. As he plans his revenge, an assassin named Kroll (Daniel Bernhardt) pursues him through the city to stop him.
Jason Statham is best served by a script that has little inventiveness or depth – he’s not that great an actor, yet with knowing his limitations, he’s largely successful in honing in on exactly the type of character he does well – hard-assed and brutal. The combination of his physical prowess and look, the cool-one-liners British accent, and a tangible screen presence make Statham a formidable opponent even with the daffiest of screenplays. Just don’t ask him to cry or go all soft. Parker isn’t a stretch for Statham’s talent, and I should also add it’s not really a big deal for Jennifer Lopez, here playing a hard-up realtor struggling with a divorce and alimony payments, who seems to be used as comedy relief but doesn’t quite pull it off enough to elevate the film to save it. John J McLaughlin’s screenplay ambles along with the intensity of quicksilver, lofting hoary genre cliches at the screen with increasing freneticism, until his supply is exhausted and the film simply ends the only way it can – with a shoot-out. As a heist film, there’s no twists or turns to make things interesting, and where you’d expect a modern action flick like this to try and go to some crazy places (did you see Pain & Gain?), Parker seems content – nay, indebted – to remain middle-of-the-road throughout.
The typical cast of characters are here – the swindling gang boss, the quiet but menacing henchman, the nervous twitchy one, the policeman who sniffs trouble but never gets involved, and of course, the silent assassin who has a knock-down drag-out punch-on with the hero. Throw in a stint in a hospital, fake firemen and some dodgy carnival clowns, and you have all the great dot points of How To Make A Heist Film. About the only original thing I can mention about Parker is the fact that Parker himself remains resolutely faithful to his girlfriend, Claire, rather than swapping up for Lopez’s Leslie – who, I might add, is far hotter but most likely requires a whole lot more maintenance. The fact that Parker is unattainable for Leslie is about the only thing the film has going for it that piqued my interest, although even that was hopelessly underdeveloped.
As you’d expect, Statham makes this film his own through sheer force of personality, his gritty hound-dog delivery and half-wounded vendetta-seeking menace making Parker a clone of what must surely be Statham’s real, actual personality. I’m sure of it. There’s almost no backstory to him, aside from what little dialogue is given to Claire and Hurley to spar with Statham, so we don’t know just how attached he is to Claire, or anyone for that matter, except by what he says. Parker’s clumsy ideology about never shirking from what he promises is yet another action cliche, allowing for several Arnie-style one-liners to be scattered throughout the movie, and you kinda get the sense that this film is from the increasingly soft-core action sub-genre, the kind you could watch with your mother and not feel awkward or squeamish. Parker is bloody at times – especially in the climactic shootout – but it never really hits hard. Even the bloody, violent fistfight with Kroll in the hotel apartment seems softened somewhat, as if you’re watching it through a veneer of don’t-hurt-me and not-too-graphic. At one point, Parker has a knife shoved through his hand, but all it produced in me was a muffled yawn.
Jennifer Lopez takes the opportunity she’s given to make us laugh, and makes us laugh. She’s no stand-up comedienne, and Leslie ain’t really anything other than a Generic Action Female, but Lopez’s banter with Statham and easygoing chemistry with Statham does provide some spark to an otherwise unimaginative storyline. In fact, the moments when Parker and Lopez aren’t together, the film tends to drag – a lot. Leslie’s mother, played by Patti Lupone, is another Comedy Relief character, yet although Lupone does well with the small role and limited development opportunity, she’s barely able to raise more than a casual chuckle. Michael Chiklis is red-hot bad-ass as Melander, the one who double-crosses Parker and sends them all on a collision course in Palm Beach. Chiklis is all sound-and-fury, a loose cannon with anger management issues and a penchant for screaming at his underlings out of frustration and absentee masculinity. He brings the real menace to the film. But he spends about an hour off-screen, reducing his eventual impact as a character. Emma Booth’s Claire is set up for a larger role during the films’ opening act, but is reduced to third-tier hanger-on by the time Parker has to finish up the job.
Parker’s lack of inventiveness is annoying, although as a time-wasting few hours in the gunsights of Statham, there’s worse you could do. Hackford’s direction feels steady, the cast are good enough with the undemanding screenplay, and the action moments are well produced even if they’re largely generic and predictable. That’s the thing about Parker – after years of films like this, it’s sorely predictable, and that’s the main problem with it. You’ll see the ending coming a mile away, and although Hackford tries to make things interesting with snappy visuals and the Palm Beach locations, it’s a film unable to maintain high interest or entertainment. Parker does its job, does it without ostentation, and then concludes without huge fanfare. I guess this makes it successful in some ways, in that it does exactly what you expect; as long as you don’t expect too much, you’ll probably find this one of interest, otherwise I’d imagine a lot of casual Statham fans will be left feeling a bit “meh”. I know I was.