Monday, May 20, 2013

DVD/Blu-ray: "Parker" an inert mess that can't deliver much of anything

Parker (2013) 
118 min., rated R.

Donald E. Westlake's books have been taken to the screen numerous times before with a star in the lead (including 1967's "Point Black" with Lee Marvin, 1973's "The Outfit" with Robert Duvall, and 1999's "Payback" with Mel Gibson). Now, officially being titled after the fictional protagonist of Westlake's series, "Parker" is adapted from the 2000 novel "Flashfire," with Jason Statham as Parker, but never capitalizes on the supposed appeal. It's more like an Elmore Leonard yarn without any of the punch and a Statham vehicle with little of the adrenaline-fueled energy. Directed with competency but anonymity and little energy by Taylor Hackford (2004's "Ray"), "Parker" still gets off to a crisp, brutal bang and gets all the setup done in the first 20 minutes. When it's being a no-frills, business-as-usual action-revenge picture, it delivers pretty much what its niche audience would expect. When it's not, which is most of the time, it's a plodding drag.

In the most conspicuous disguise, that of a silver-haired padre, master thief Parker (Statham) completes a caper for his mentor, Hurley (Nick Nolte), at the Ohio State Fair with a new crew (Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., and Micah A. Hauptman). Thereafter, they turn on him and leave him for dead on the side of the road in Kentucky. Parker miraculously recovers and tails his double-crossers to West Palm Beach, Florida. And then… Down-on-her-luck Florida realtor Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez), divorced, in debt, and stuck living with her soap-obsessed mother (Patti LuPone) in her mother's condo, is waiting for her next commission. Once Parker finds out his ex-crew's hideout for planning a new heist, he poses as an interested buyer (complete with a Texas drawl and cowboy hat) to get a lay of the land and gets mixed up with Leslie, who also could use a cut.

Written by John J. McLaughlin (2012's "Hitchcock"), "Parker" is a protracted mess that takes a while to get where it's going, and the payoff isn't really worth the wait. The useless introduction of the pitiful Leslie actually gets in the way, feeling shoehorned in and rendering the story inert. She doesn't even stand a chance being a love interest for the anti-hero since it's already been established that Parker has a girlfriend, Claire (Emma Booth), also Hurley's daughter. In the script, where it was probably noted as "Insert Action Set-Piece Here," there is all but one standout sequence: a hard-hitting knock-down, drag-out altercation in a fancy hotel room, followed by a gnarly bit with a blade going into a hand. Then, in its revenge-fueled climax where most of the guns are conveniently unloaded, heads are stabbed and blasted with bullets. We should be satisfied, right?

Here, British action star Statham is mostly playing a variation on the badass, reticent, get-the-job-done dynamos he's been playing since forever (take all three "Transporter" movies and both "Crank" movies). Without stretching beyond his comfort zone, he's good at what he does and fulfills the physical demands of each role. There are early shades of a moral code—as when he says during a robbery, "I don't steal from people who can't afford it; I don't hurt people who don't deserve it"—but otherwise, there is little else to Parker than a scowl and a resilience after being shot and stabbed. The supporting cast is nothing to sneeze at either, but all are wasted. Nick Nolte wanders in, grumbling and surprisingly not turning into a turncoat; Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., and Micah A. Hauptman all get to play stock bad guys who are constantly incognito (as clowns and firemen) and want more money; and Bobby Cannavale is utterly squandered as a cop who has the hots for Leslie.

Not every film has to have grand ambitions, but there should be a reason to care. Jennifer Lopez, who can be a warm, charismatic, even good performer when the role is right, seems to walk in from a whole different movie as Leslie. Though she's a girlish, radiant breath of fresh air against the glumly violent proceedings, not much is asked of her besides throwing off a couple one-liners, feeling bad for herself, and stripping down to her polka-dotted bikini (so Parker can strip search her for a wire). Once Leslie functions as a piece of the action, Lopez turns into a squealing, helpless accessory. As the girlfriend Claire, Booth is just treated as window dressing; she's at least smart enough to escape a dangerous home invader but then forgotten about. In the oddest bit of casting, the one and only Patti LuPone comes out of hiding to play Leslie's loud, sassy Latina mama with a yappy dog. She's a welcome sight, but the character makes little sense. Despite its distinct moniker, "Parker" is as resolutely rote and mediocre as Statham actioners come. It's bound to please no one.

Grade: C - 

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