By Shane M. Dallmann
Preliminary Note #1: If you’re looking to me for a review of HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, I’ll have to disappoint you. The trailer alone convinced me that I’d only be seeing that one if somebody else bought my ticket. If you think I’m completely misguided here, please let me know.
Preliminary Note #2: While I consider myself fairly well-read in the “action” novel field from Bond to Bourne, I have not read any of the “Parker” books by “Richard Stark” (Donald E. Westlake). I’ve heard it expressed often that the new movie PARKER doesn’t do justice to the books and that Jason Statham was miscast as the character. On that I can offer no opinion whatsoever–I’m reviewing nothing more than the new Jason Statham movie. I HAVE, however, read numerous Matt Helm novels and tend to doubt that we’re dealing with as extreme a case as the casting of Dean Martin in that arena…
PARKER starts off with a pretty terrific “bang” involving a heist at the Ohio State Fair. We quickly learn that Jason Statham is playing another one of those professional crooks who considers himself a regular Robin Hood: he’ll only steal from those who “can afford it;” he tends to handsomely reward those who help him along the way; he doesn’t want to see anybody but “bad guys” get hurt; and he’ll even provide reassurance to those who get unduly stressed out during his capers. But he only works well with a team when the entire team follows the rules to the letter, and this heist quickly dissolves into one of those “It wasn’t supposed to happen THAT way!” deals, after which his honorable partners (including such terrific character actors as Michael Chiklis and Clifton Collins, Jr. from the CRANK sequel) leave him for dead and abscond with the loot.
Luckily for Parker, he’s as superhuman as he is self-righteous (and he can even administer himself an IV in the back of a stolen ambulance). And after arranging for the safety of his girlfriend (Emma Booth) and his mob employer (Nick Nolte), Parker’s off to settle scores and reclaim what’s his.
Up to this point, the movie’s been crackling non-stop under the direction of Taylor Hackford, giving you all the action and humor you’d expect from a Statham vehicle but still keeping it somewhat more realistic than a TRANSPORTER movie. Then, for reasons FAR too complicated to explain here, Parker dons a Texan disguise and engages down-on-her-luck agent Jennifer Lopez for a real estate tour of West Palm Beach, Florida. And here’s where things grind to a screeching halt.
It’s not Jennifer Lopez herself that’s to blame–she’s perfectly acceptable in the role. And I’m not going to go off about morality in such a production (hey, this is the A-1 CRANK fan speaking), either, because PARKER clearly identifies itself as a “bad guy as good guy” movie from the beginning. One can believe easily enough that Lopez would spurn the overtures of the honest cop and fall for the allure of the charming crook (and hope for a share of his spoils). But are we REALLY supposed to feel sorry for her when she finds out he already has a girlfriend?
Yes. Go back and read that again. Parker already HAS Emma Booth. And he’s such a caring, pure-hearted thief-for-hire that he’d never even THINK of cheating on her. There is actually NO REASON for the Lopez character to even be IN this film except to provide an important piece of information that Parker could probably have divined otherwise in less than five minutes of “movie time.” Everything else she does simply serves to bog down the plot when all we really want is for Statham to catch up with his betrayers.
Oh, yes, he eventually does that. And there’s a super-brutal fight sequence to wake you up in the middle of the slog, and there’s another big heist, and there’s a good, suspenseful showdown. And then there’s more Jennifer Lopez stuff before we can get to the end credits.
If you want to see Statham at his best with both action AND character drama/interaction in a tightly-constructed story, I will redirect your attention to THE BANK JOB and KILLER ELITE (not to mention the direct-to-American-video BLITZ, which was apparently “too British” for our mainstream screens but too violent for the arthouses, but which would have served us far more efficiently than PARKER all the same). If you just want the action and aren’t too concerned with the “other stuff,” stick with DEATH RACE (or plenty of other examples). PARKER isn’t likely to satisfy either appetite.