Parker (2013)

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*. When I first heard about this film I naturally assumed it was going to be another version of the Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) novel, The Hunter. This was the first of the Parker novels, and had already been filmed as Point Blank and Payback.
*. But no! It’s actually based on a much later Parker novel, the nineteenth (of 24), titled Flashfire. Not that this makes a lick of difference. The basic plot is the same, with Parker being involved in a heist, then double-crossed by his fellow gang members and left for dead, to later revive and exact a bloody vengeance. Yes, that’s The Hunter. I haven’t read them all so I can’t say for sure, but I strongly suspect that if you’ve read one of the Parker novels you’ve probably read most of them.
*. Then again, if you’ve seen one Jason Statham movie you’ve probably seen most of them. Put Parker and Statham together and you have a movie that will not be full of surprises. And Parker isn’t.
*. Statham really became a generic action star in this period, specializing in fast-cut hand-to-hand combat sequences. And he’s good at it, as far as it goes. But that’s as far as it goes.
*. In the earlier movies I mentioned, Point Blank and Payback, Parker is both a bad ass and a bad guy. Not as bad as the other gangsters he takes out, but still not nice. He’s a man with a code and a set of principles (“civilized people have to follow rules” or else there is chaos), but here he wears a white hat. Literally. He’s Robin Hood, not stealing from anyone who can’t afford it and willing to do anything to avoid the spilling of innocent blood.
*. In the DVD commentary director Taylor Hackford insists that Parker “is not Robin Hood at all.” But he is. You can tell by how much he wants to help Leslie out.
*. This makes Parker easier to root for, but it’s less easy to understand why his ex-gang are so frightened of him. He’s capable of violence to be sure, but seems such a decent fellow. He has an English accent, and even angry little dogs just naturally like him.
*. Does that matter? Hackford asks “Who cares about an accent?” Well, I would say it depends. We wouldn’t expect, or want, James Bond to speak with an American accent would we? Parker was conceived of as an American character, and in some ways the embodiment of certain American characteristics. It definitely seems weird to me to have him being played by a Brit.
*. If you knew you spoke with an English accent, and that you were pretending to be someone born in Equador, why would you affect the character of a Texan for a disguise?
*. Why do they make such a big deal of Parker’s watch (with two full-screen close-ups)? Because it’s a Richard Mille. They are a luxury Swiss brand and very expensive. Leslie probably picks up on that. Meanwhile the product placmenet, Hackford says, paid for the film’s special effects.
*. An interesting move to start off with a heist of . . . the Ohio State Fair. Sure it’s the biggest state fair in the U.S., but that’s not where we expect a big or mid-budget action film to take us. Which says something, I guess, about how we’ve all been Hollywoodized to believe in the majority of America as “flyover country.” (For what it’s worth, the novel’s heist takes place at the Missouri State Fair.)
*. But then there’s an aerial shot of Palm Beach and we know we’re back where we belong. Money.
*. Gosh Nick Nolte looks in really bad shape here. I think he was just over 70 when they filmed it but he looks much older. And much much too old to be playing Emma Booth’s dad.
*. Jennifer Lopez is a good actress, but this is not a great part. It has such potential, as she is playing a sympathetic figure: vulnerable yet bold, and with brains. But then she does a lot of stupid things, capped by her going to the gang’s house at the end. What was she thinking? She was worried Parker was going to “fuck things up”? Huh?
*. Then there is the obligatory disrobing. I really didn’t like this. Basically she has to perform a striptease (Hackford’s own word, glossed as “it is what it is”), for the seated Statham, who is a proxy for the audience. She drops her dress and lo! The famous J-Lo booty is revealed.
*. I mean, I’m not a prude about such things, and apparently the scene is in the book, but there is something demeaning in putting an actress through this isn’t there? And it’s so unnecessary (the practical explanation is that Parker wants to make sure she isn’t wearing a wire, but who cares?). I think the worst example of this kind of thing came in True Lies with Jamie Lee Curtis’s floor show, but all such scenes just make me cringe.
*. I’m a bit troubled by all the improbabilities. You can suspend your disbelief and accept a few of these in any movie, but here there are a few too many big stretches. Chief among these is the way everyone on the deck just ignores the three men in wetsuits and scuba gear leaving the mansion. Parker’s robbery of the cheque cashing store in broad daylight is another.
*. Aside from this, it’s hard to point to anything in particular that’s wrong with this movie aside from the fact that there’s just not enough right with it. Everything is done well enough, but nothing really stands out. And Point Blank now seems so long ago.

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