Parker (Taylor Hackford, 2013)
I am not entirely sure why Taylor Hackford felt the need to “reboot” the Parker franchise when Hollywood’s first modern Parker film, 1999’s Payback, was such an unbridled joy. Brian Helgeland’s film gets that perfect balance of action, comedy, and sheer edge-of-your-seat disgust from Westlake’s novels down pat (tell me you didn’t close your eyes during the scene with the hammer and Mel Gibson’s toes and I will call you a liar to your face). It was a movie that cried out for the same connections to adapt any other dozen Donald E. Westlake novels, but for some reason that never happened, leaving one sterling film. And so Hackford and his cronies could have started, well, anywhere else in the Parker mythology instead of going after the same book, but that’s what they did—though if you aren’t familiar with the novel, and maybe even if you are, if you know Helgeland’s film you will likely be questioning a few times whether this is actually an adaptation of the same book. It is, unfortunately. And you know, I didn’t hate this movie anywhere near as much as it may sound like I did reading over that paragraph, but I think I would have liked it a lot more if I didn’t have Payback sitting in the back of my mind to hold up as a yardstick for what Parker should have been and never was.
Plot: Parker (The Transporter‘s Jason Statham) is a career criminal who made his money by keeping his head low and being one of the best at his job. He gets hired as a part of a crew for what seems like a standard robbery, but once they’ve gotten away, Melander (The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis), the unofficial leader of this loose confederation of crooks, changes the game on Parker, promising a score at least ten times as large if he’s willing to invest his share of this take. When Parker refuses, the rest of the gang attack him, dump him by the side of the road, and leave him for dead. After a long period of recovery, Parker—never one to forget about money he’s owed—tracks Melander and the rest of the gang to get his share of the loot, picking up a wannabe sidekick (Out of Sight‘s Jennifer Lopez) along the way.
Jason Statham, over the past few years, has quietly morphed into this generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger—a reliable action star, enjoyable to watch whenever he appears onscreen, and bringing a moxie to otherwise generic action films in which he appears. (Admit it, without Schwarzie, you would never have watched Commanda. Actually, while we’re at it, admit it: you watched Commando.) But he doesn’t have the force of personality that Schwarzie always brings to his roles. As a result, Statham usually ends up as an actor like Parker does as a thief—you remember enjoying the performance but you don’t remember much about it otherwise. For a thief, that’s a good thing. For an actor, it usually means not being able to keep up with the rest of the cast. That is definitely the case here, with the huge personalities onscreen. Patti LuPone as J-Lo’s mom steals every scene she’s in (all of which, if memory serves, contain Statham). Michael Chiklis gets roles based on that boisterous personality, as does Bobby Cannavale. Statham gets lost in the shuffle here sometimes, but don’t let that statement imply that he’s not doing a competent job—it’s just that it’s nothing more than competent. Which is where we get back to Payback; Mel Gibson brought personality in spades to Payback. Statham, not so much. Worth watching, but doesn’t measure up to its predecessor. ** ½