Parker Walks the Walk, Doesn’t Talk the Talk
Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional. He doesn’t steal from those who can’t afford it. He doesn’t kill those he doesn’t have to. He does what he says he is going to do. He expects others to do the same. He lives up to his word. And, most importantly, if you cross him, if you trick him, if you do not give him what he is owed, he will get even and, in doing so, he will make sure you pay for attempting to screw him over.
And yet, after a robbery at the Ohio State Fair more or less goes off as planned, the other four members of his crew do exactly that. The one who imagines himself in charge, Melander (Michael Chiklis), doesn’t want to divvy up the score but intends to use it for another, far bigger heist, and he isn’t going to allow Parker to decline his offer. After a scuffle the group leaves him on the side of the road for dead, going on off on their own without giving their former partner a second thought.
Bad idea. Parker pulls himself together, mends his wounds and begins putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Even though his best and most trusted friend Hurley (Nick Nolte) urges him to leave it alone, even though he learns that one of his former crew is highly connected within the Chicago mafia, this is one man who doesn’t take kindly to being stabbed in the back. Heading down to the glitzy wilds of Palm Beach, using down on her luck real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez) for information, Parker has tracked down Melander and the rest of the guys and, rest assured, he’s going to make sure he gets his share of the Ohio State Fair loot and those four get exactly the punishment that’s coming to them.
It doesn’t make any sense. Parker, the first movie based on one of Donald E. Westlake’s novels (written, of course, under the pseudonym Richard Stark), in this case the relatively recent Flashfire, where the actual name of the character has been used, should have been a good movie. Director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman) understands the gritty, hard-boiled nature of the guy, doesn’t shy away from his violent inclinations and isn’t afraid to dig right into the pulpy aspects of the material. As for the plot, it’s authentically straight-forward and devoid of frills, screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Hitchcock, Black Swan) stripping things as bare as they should be keeping the main storyline clean, clear and mostly on point.
Problem is, Parker isn’t a good movie. It doesn’t have the ferocious tenacity of John Boorman’s Point Blank or the subtle intelligence of John Flynn’s The Outfit. Heck, it even lacks the crackerjack slick-ass fun of Brian Helgeland’s Payback, Mel Gibson’s devil-may-care performance elevating that piece of bullet-riddled cheese to a higher plateau than it ever would have climbed to without him. Hackford’s movie is all over the place in regards to tone, slips in a bunch of weird, disjointed flashbacks that serve little to no purpose and oftentimes doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. It’s annoyingly all over the map, and even though certain scenes ring with the proper Westlake blood-splattered realism more often than not this film is a head-scratching mess that’s virtually impossible to enjoy.
Sad, because Statham was born to play this character. While Lee Marvin in Point Blank will always be the quintessential Parker (renamed ‘Walker’), the Safe and The Transporter action star easily fills the thief’s shoes. The Outfit may have had Robert Duvall and, as I’ve already stated, Payback may have been a showcase for Gibson, but that doesn’t make Statham’s embodiment any less mesmerizing, the actor showing once again he’s far more talented than the majority of his previous roles would initially lead one to believe.
Even better, Hackford goes a long way towards rescuing Lopez from the discarded former superstar actress slagheap, reminding us all that, once upon a time, she was an ebullient and free-spirited talent who could steal scenes from the likes of George Clooney with ease. She has moments here, quiet, beautiful little asides, which are surprisingly stunning. Lopez brings depth to her performance, real weight and emotional meaning, making the ultimate mishandling of her character all the more dispiriting.
What do I mean? As solid as McLaughlin’s script can be when dealing with Parker as a character and towards his mission on the whole, how it deals with Leslie is inexcusable. This smart, tenacious woman becomes a walking, talking imbecile, the whole climax revolving around her newfound stupidity to such a gigantic extent I almost couldn’t believe what was happening. She’s reduced to a cartoon, a female caricature who’d be insulting if she weren’t so idiotic, and for that alone Parker deserves almost every bit of vitriol I could potentially send its way.
But that isn’t the only issue. Not only are the aforementioned flashbacks a problem, but so are the bizarre fluctuations in tone and style. Sometimes the movie is a laidback procedural. Others it roars with a similar ferocity found in the entirety of Boorman’s Point Blank. At other random moments it starts to fall into comedic, slapstick tones that are unwarranted, almost as if Hackford intended the movie as a parody and not the down and dirty thriller it appears to want to be.
I guess that’s why Parker upsets me so much. The seeds of a solid thriller are all here. The appreciation for the source material is evident and the casting of the major roles is spot-on. But the execution, as great as it might be in spurts, isn’t what it should be, the shifts in tone and the insults to intelligence far too much to bear.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)