I am no expert in the popular “Parker” novels, of which there are about two dozen, but I have seen a lot of movies. I’ve even seen a couple of Parker movies, including Point Blank, the classic macho head-trip from director John Boorman, and two different versions of Payback (the director’s cut was better). I’ve also read Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation of The Hunter, the first novel in Donald Westlake’s series (written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark). So I can’t claim to know with absolute certainty what makes the character tick, but I get the impression that it’s his staunch commitment to a series of rules, not unlike The Transporter, that structure the criminal’s life around something other than conventional morality. He’s a pragmatist who views anyone who behaves otherwise as disposable, and worthy of vengeance if they cross him.
That certainly seems to be the common thread between those other adaptations and Parker, a film directed by Taylor Hackford that follows the basic plot of The Hunter – and by extension Point Blank and Payback – with none of the zeal, grit or focus. Once again, Parker (no last name, or possibly no first one) has been double-crossed at the end of a heist, and goes out of his way to get his cut of the profits afterwards. Once again his rules keep him somewhat likable, promising his potential victims that if they follow his orders they’ll survive, and only killing them when they don’t. But the uniqueness of Parker’s mindset doesn’t particularly interest anyone, either in the audience or in the world of Parker itself. He comes across as a generic criminal do-gooder, breaking the law without any consequence to innocent passers-by and killing only those who genuinely deserve vengeance from an outside moral perspective. This is about as conventional a crime thriller as you can get.
Well, mostly. After a fairly straightforward opening heist at the Ohio State Fair, and a series of brief adventures getting his life back together after his cohorts leave Parker for dead, Parker introduces Leslie Rodgers, a real estate agent played by Jennifer Lopez. She’s in debt, about to lose her car, and desperate to sell a house in Palm Beach to pull herself out of this financial quagmire. So when Parker shows up, in an almost adorably bad Texan accent, ostensibly seeking to buy a mansion – but actually trying to track down his quarry, who has already purchased property in the area as a base of operations – she’s drawn into Parker’s deadly game.
That should be interesting, but instead the whole subplot – introduced so late in the film that it practically has a two-act structure (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that) – fails to turn Parker into anything more human, humorous or even meaningful. The first half of the film is such a straightforward crime thriller that the injection of an outsider really should change the course of action, either by providing pointed commentary on Parker’s unusual lifestyle and belief system, or at least by adding an unpredictable x-factor to a story otherwise about professional criminals largely in complete control of their own lives. If nothing else you’d think she’d be a love interest, but Parker already has a committed relationship to a woman named Claire, played by Emma Booth, who has so little screen time that the only proper function she serves is to neutralize any actual chemistry that might have emerged from Parker’s sexy leading actors.
Jason Statham has his tough guy schtick down pat, which serves Parker reasonably well until that silly cowboy hat pops up and you realize just how much fun he can have with material like Crank or Safe. Even the kind of action-packed insanity we usually expect from a Jason Statham movie only pops up twice, in a mad knife fight towards the end and a proper gun-toting finale at the actual end. Hackford is a fine director under normal circumstances, but his brightly colored, casual style in Parker does the film no favors, letting the poorly structured story play out when a modicum of off-kilter personality could have elevated the proceedings to a better-than-average crime caper, at least.
Parker just isn’t as fun as we’ve come to expect from a typical Jason Statham movie, and isn’t as classy as we’ve come to expect from an atypical one like The Bank Job. It takes a compelling character and plops him into a familiar story with no one particularly interesting to play off of, and nothing in the film that challenges his credo or skills. Though not an unwatchable mess, it’s certainly a mediocre production that neither thrills nor evokes an emotional reaction from its failures. It just parks itself down in front of you for two hours and then leaves, having accomplished little and made even less of an impact. No flash. No fire. No particular reason to see it.