Director: Taylor Hackford
Writer: John J. McLaughlin
Cast: Emma Booth, Bobby Cannavale, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins Jr, Micah A. Hauptman, Jennifer Lopez, Patti LuPone, Nick Nolte, Wendell Pierce, and Jason Statham
It occurs to me that Jason Statham only stars in two kinds of movies, largely in equal measure: moronic b-grade action flicks like The Transporter (2002) or Death Race (2008) and satires of moronic b-grade action flicks like Crank (2006) or Safe (2012). For those unfamiliar with his work, imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger had alternated between Commando (1985) and The Last Action Hero (1993) throughout his career, except each release raked in less than half the dough and cost about a tenth. The problem lies in his films all being marketed the same so that viewers never know what they’re going to get.
Unfortunately, Parker falls, or rather dives head first, into the moronic b-grade action flick category. The screenplay, based on the novel Flashfire by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake), has got some humour in it, but the jokes mostly aim to emphasise the hero’s tough guy appeal rather than his absurdity. We open on an unnecessarily elaborate hold-up at the Ohio State Fair. For some reason, all involved treat the operation as a Mission: Impossible type heist, synchronizing their watches, giving each other all too conspicuous hand signals: the whole works. Right away, Parker (Jason Statham) explains to the hostages his defining traits: “I only steal from those who can afford it and hurt people who deserve it.” Does he realise state fairs are non-profit organisations dedicated to helping local businesses?
Never mind. Statham characters always live by oddly specific rules. In most films, they end up breaking every single one of them, but, as Parker keeps reminding us, whenever he agrees to something, he always follows through on it. As such, when the rest of the crew, led by Melander (Michael Chiklis), steal his cut and leave him for dead, our hero goes on a one-man revenge spree that puts at risk the lives of all of his loved ones, including his loving girlfriend (Emma Booth) and heterosexual life partner (Nick Nolte), not for the money but because “it’s the principle of it.”
I know what some of you are thinking: “Didn’t the adverts show Jennifer Lopez trading witty repartee with the awesomeness that is Jason Statham?” Though she’s got second billing on the poster, Lopez only shows up at the halfway mark to portray Miss Stupid Idiot (not her actual name), a real estate agent who helps Parker get his prey in Palm Beach because she’s broke, horny, psychopathic, or possibly all of the above. The movie never makes it clear. What matters, I suppose, is that this new perfunctory, insufferable sidekick turns out a woman, which means she’s going to fawn over our hero, parade around in her underwear, and get herself kidnapped at the climax even though the plot has to bend over backwards to make it happen.
Needless to say, Parker loses me at this point. Though it really is six kinds of dumb, the first hour or so strikes me as passably entertaining in a sleazy, adolescent sort of way. I like, for example, that director Taylor Hackford takes his sweet time with the aforementioned opening set piece, building suspense with minimal violence and exposition. In contrast, the rest of the film seems composed entirely of macho threats, unconvincing bloodshed, thinly veiled misogyny, and “eat the rich” platitudes.
The main difference lies in the first half of Parker unfolding in a world almost exclusively populated by criminals. This makes it easy to root for the titular character because he’s got a marginally bigger heart than the sociopaths with whom he associates. The second part in Palm Beach doesn’t have this luxury, so it tries to convince us that murder and larceny are moral acts as long as the perpetrators don’t belong to the entitled one percent, who deserve whatever’s coming to them. This strikes me as the sort of insight one might expect from a thirteen-year-old. Incidentally, I have trouble understanding how Miss Stupid Idiot got herself in so much debt. She says her ex-husband filed for bankruptcy before the divorce, but that wouldn’t affect her credit.
Normally, I’d conclude this review by pointing out that Jason Statham deserves better as an actor, which he does (sort of), but I find myself more troubled with the state of Jennifer Lopez’ career. I remember a time in the mid nineties when the woman could headline a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, and even then I thought she was underrated. As such, I find it disheartening to see her in Parker playing second fiddle to our generation’s dime store Bruce Willis. I mentioned that the latter only stars in two kinds of movies. These days, Lopez can only be found in one: the kind she’s too good for.