We should jump in with both feet. Far from the most annoying thing about Parker is that it SHOULD work. A talented, journeyman director (Taylor Hackford) takes on a genre revenge picture based on a series of novels by Donald E. Westlake that have been adapted into successful movies several times before (Payback, Point Blank), the current go-to hard man, Jason Statham is rounded up and joined by sassy (contractually obliged to say sassy) Jennifer Lopez, semi-reprising her best role from Out Of Sight, they are helped out by a supporting cast of grizzled toughs (Nick Nolte, Michael Chiklis, er….the drug dealer from The Rules of Attraction) and helped out by the ever popular “one big score” and “sort of a love triangle” tropes from noir 101. Works on paper for us, almost entirely fails up on the big screen.
Take a deep breath. The eponymous Parker is played by Jason Statham, he is a morally questionable thief with cast iron morals on things he thinks are important, he heads to Palm Beach to stop his former crew succeed on their next heist and kill them for betraying him on the last one. Parker is helped by Leslie, inhabited by J-Lo, a realtor who knows Palm Beach like the back of her sassy (sorry), latino hand. Nick Nolte, played by a distraught, melting, waxwork dummy of Nick Nolte, helps Parker out with information, which is interesting as Nick Nolte was the person who set Parker up with the gang who betrayed him in the first place, showing a shocking judgement of character and completely oblivious that they were “connected up the ass” in Chicago, making Parker’s attempt at revenge even more foolhardy. That’s okay though as Parker is sleeping with Nolte’s daughter, who is fine with having a stupid thief father, a silent, unsmiling, thief boyfriend who disappears for weeks on end and has more scars than the entire cast of Jaws. So that’s your plot and in skilled hands like Kubrick’s for The Killing or Soderberg’s for Out Of Sight, to pick two out of hundreds and hundreds, convolution works brilliantly, adding layers of intrigue and suspense. Here, handled by the director of The Devil’s Advocate and the writer of Man About The House it falls flat and lies there lifelessly whilst the poor editor tries to put the pieces together coherently.
Whilst Statham is poised, gruff and stares well and Jennifer Lopez is confident, desperate and clever the rest of the cast are either cardboard cut-outs, grimacing or panicking like good cow actors should or completely over the top, maniacally bad scenery chewers with indigestion. The gang who betrayed Parker are a case in point. They don’t communicate with each other, just shout or whine lines as if reading them off their co-stars foreheads. Michael Chiklis, particularly, thuds out words as if trying to start a fight with himself in a phone booth. He couldn’t be less convincing if he was fully made up in his Thing make up from Fantastic Four. In fact, the gang of four are so incompetent, snivelling, infighty and generally sociopathic that the idea of them completing one successful heist, let alone two is so unlikely that belief, like many of Parker’s enemies, crashes out of the window. Parker has precisely two good lines, one has been used extensively in the trailer and the other is so close to the end (of which there are four) that it may simply be growing relief that elevates it’s delivery by Lopez.
For the undeserved sake of balance, Parker does contain an excellent fight in a hotel room between our hero and a mob assassin (who inexplicably insists on using what appears to be a craft knife at all times). Visceral, intelligently shot, brutal and culminating in a bathroom with plenty of references to the countless other great moments of violence in bathrooms in cinema such as True Romance and Psycho to pick the obvious ones. This is everything the rest of Parker isn’t. Every blow comes through the screen and the blood splatters like only the best film blood can. It sticks out like a sore (decapitated and trod on) thumb and makes everything else seem an even paler shade a gray.
In the end, Parker is a genre flick delivered with no respect to it’s genre, no consideration for it’s audience, no intelligence in it’s narrative, not enough time spent balancing a wild script and crucially, no love for the almost set in stone rules of either it’s practically mythical legend nor the weight it holds in the pantheon. Ugly without trying.