The pulpy, B-movie thriller Parker is a curious choice for Director Taylor Hackford. Hackford is probably most known as the man behind An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray, Everybody’s All American, The chilling Dolores Claiborne, and one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movies, The Devil’s Advocate. Those movies, while varying quite wildly in terms of quality and subject matter, are almost entirely focused on human (or non-human) interpersonal drama and conflict - which is something Hackford traditionally does well. Even in a rightfully maligned film like the aforementioned Devils Advocate, the performances and characters were memorable, if not entirely three dimensional, and it made for some compelling drama and lasting images.
But, compelling drama direction does not necessarily make for a quality action thriller. Parker seems to have all the elements in place for a slam-bang B-movie thrill ride, and they never quite come together. Interestingly enough, the most inspired pieces of the film are small moments of incredibly high tension mixed with high comedy, which are few and far between.
Parker follows the exploits of, well, a guy named Parker, played by Jason Statham. He’s a world-class thief, a master of disguise, weaponry, hand to hand combat, and continuously sports the sort of rugged five o’clock shadow that drives the girls batty. Things kick off with a fairly entertaining robbery of Ohio’s State Fair, where Parker, dressed as a priest, charms his way into the cash office of the fair, while his clown-dressed cohorts sneak in from below. Meanwhile, Carlson (Wendell Pierce) keeps watch, and Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.) is tasked with setting fire to some hay bales to create a distraction. Parker is a thief with a heart, however, and calmly assuages a hyper-ventilating security guard before he and his crew make off with all the money. What a sweetheart.
However, things are not all hunky dory, as almost immediately after the heist, Parker refuses to partake in another, riskier job, and is shot and left for dead. The betrayal by his crew, creates the setup for this revenge tale, as audiences watch with relative delight as Parker goes from practically dead in a ditch to mercilessly coming after the people who put him there. This country sprawling trek takes him from Ohio to New Orleans, with visits to Chicago, and Sunny Florida, as Parker amasses his resources, reconnects with his trusted contacts, and prepares for a show down.
Parker does a pretty good job of honing in on Statham’s character. He’s merciless, but not without a heart, only killing those who he deems deserves it, but is not afraid to intimidate, hurt, or maim the (relatively) innocent in order to get his way. Statham’s screen presence, and ability to take seemingly any material given to him seriously, go a long way to making Parker more entertaining than it probably has any right being. Parker is at it’s best while depicting the cunning creativity of it’s namesake, whether it’s escaping from a hospital with a somewhat willing hostage, dressing as a Texan to scope out potential hide-outs, or hiding out in the apartment of Jennifer Lopez’s character while she tries to distract a cop who’s come snooping around.
The other members of the cast do not fare as well. Nick Nolte appears in a supporting role, providing money and resources in times of need, but really serves as an expository device, which can be kind of a pain considering the talented actor’s tendency to mumble through dialog. While Michael Chiklis is set up as the main nemesis of Parker, sadly he and his crew is given very little to work with besides the procedural set-up for their heist, and standard “Oh crap! He’s alive!” style dialog once they learn the rumors of Parker’s demise had been greatly exaggerated. The immensely talented Bobby Cannavale pops up in a supporting role, but only serves as a foil to remind us how hot Jennifer Lopez is, consistently hitting on her in every scene he appears. Jennifer Lopez appears quite a ways into the movie, and while she isn’t a tour-de-force, does display ample...Charisma (among other things) that eeks out more than a few smiles from the audience, and her and Statham do have a midocrom of chemistry within their begrudging relationship.
The interpersonal relationship between Statham and Lopez, or Statham and any of the characters, are the highlights of the film, which is weird. Typically a B-movie action flick would be filled with cheesy dialog, throw-away characters, and scenes that really only serve to move us to the next action set-piece. But alas, those action set-pieces feel...flat. Aside from a brutal bare-knuckle brawl involving a toilet-seat cover and perilous tumble over a high-rise balcony, the rest of the action seems largely perfunctory. Part of me thinks this was possibly the point - that Statham’s Parker is so good at what he does that nothing is spectacular or over-the-top. The final confrontation at the movie’s climax is actually completely devoid of real stakes if you think about it, and the heist scenes are shot in a fairly standard way - which tends to suck the drama out of them.
Parker’s most exciting moments involve things like cleverly breaking into the manager’s office at a nightclub, shooting and robbing an armored truck driver (in the nicest way possible, all things considered), talking a document forger out of shooting his very large gun, and a short sequence where a battered, bruised, and bleeding Parker hides out in Lopez’s apartment while her typically yippy dog trails in little bloody footprints on the floor of the kitchen. These moments pulled the audience in, allowing them to smile gleefully at the cleverness on display. But beyond these scant few moments and an occasional joke or two that can catch you off gaurd, the movie is fairly standard stuff.
And standard is the problem here. Parker lives in the uncanny valley between “Bad” and “So bad it’s Good”. It’s not a bad movie, it’s not embarrassing or stupid, or incomprehensible, but it’s not inspired either. It reminds me of a theme park roller coaster with the shortest line. Parker’s not the fastest, or the longest, or the scariest, but it has one or two little hiccups that do just enough to serviceably entertain you. But, there are certainly far better coasters, with steeper drops, crazier twists, and better turns, that you should probably try out first.
PARKER (R) Director: Taylor Hackford Starring: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez Runtime: 118 minutes