Jason Statham has appeared in almost three dozen movies and most of them are terrible (just check his Rotten Tomatoes batting average). But quality is not part of Statham's career plan. Instead, he's aiming to be a brand name, the last man standing in an era that values pre-existing comic book properties over movie stars. It's certainly something to shoot for, although hundreds of punches, crashes and snarls later, maybe it's time to consider that climbing over the likes of Charles Bronson to reach the B-movie summit is too pyrrhic a victory. He may also want to consider that Bronson managed to appear in great films like The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven and Once Upon a Time in the West. Statham has never top-lined a great film, has rarely stretched anything other than his muscles and seems to have little interest in doing so. If he wants to get rich off international box office receipts and repeatedly giving the same performance, that's his business. But in his latest collection of scowls and shootouts, he's dragged down one of pulp literature's most deliciously unrepentant, murderous and enduring anti-heroes. Parker (first name forever unrevealed) is the key creation of the late novelist Donald Westlake. The character has appeared in 24 books, yet only two major films, Point Blank (1967) and Payback (1999). Parker is the third and, by far, the worst. In fact, one can argue it isn't even a Parker film, it's a Jason Statham film, which means an adrenalized onslaught of dutch-angle explosions, knuckleheaded dialogue and dirty double crosses. At the helm is Oscar-nominated director Taylor Hackford (Ray) who has never done a rugged film of grit and brutal violence and instead of trying anything different, he sinks to the material's sorry level. Per usual for Statham, blu-ray rentals and international box office will eclipse Parker's domestic theatrical take.
While Payback is a mean little mother and Point Blank is world-weary and existential, Parker is just fat and lazy as it awkwardly swerves from fierce action to light comedy to flirty romance. Anti-hero chic has never felt so contrived as with Parker's comically unbelievable code of honor that only the most susceptible action fan could possibly buy into. Parker only hurts those who deserve it and he'll helpfully call an ambulance for the people he shoots (he's cinema's first action mensch). And after the opening sequence, during which he gets screwed out of his share of the loot from robbing the Ohio State Fair, he'll be doing plenty of hurting and shooting. Beaten up and left for dead after the fair heist by Melander (an over-modulated Michael Chiklis) and his two-timing cohorts, Parker seeks revenge, which is pretty easy when you can hot wire cars, shoot with 100% accuracy, fight like a machine, break into homes undetected and administer your own IV drip. Retribution is planned for Palm Beach, Florida, where Melander and his double-crossing, pizza-loving friends ("Pizza...I love this stuff") will pull off their next job.
Lots of memorable crime films have taken place in Florida and the one Parker could have referenced as a spiritual guide is George Armitage's grim and offbeat crime comedy Miami Blues (1990), starring Alec Baldwin. The supposedly-humorous moments in Parker mostly involve Statham dressing in clothing that's out of character which, at no time, feels of a piece with the rest of the picture. Upon arriving in Palm Beach, Parker poses as a Texas fat cat, complete with ill-advised cowboy hat and ridiculous drawl. He's trying to find the home that Melander and his posse have purchased as their base of Florida operations. For this, he employs Leslie Rogers, a divorced, down on her luck, real estate agent. Rogers is played by Jennifer Lopez in what must be the most nakedly mercenary piece of casting in the service of widening a movie's demographic. The entire reason for hiring Lopez can be summed up in one shot: after Rogers sees through Parker's phony Texas personae and offers to help him extract his revenge in exchange for a piece of the action, Parker demands she remove her clothes to see if she's wearing a wire. She obliges and reveals her panty-sheathed derriere, which also happens to be Jennifer Lopez's derriere, one of the industry's most famous hindquarters. Watching her spin around for the delectation of the audience (we're meant to enjoy the view way more than Parker) is such a sad and pathetic display that Lopez should be ashamed. It may even turn off the violence-averse gender it's attempting to lure by hiring her. Yet the real victim in Parker is not Lopez, who also has a music career, or Statham, who'll survive to make another ten films as bad as this one. It's Parker's creator. Donald Westlake, who died in 2008, never lived to see his creation referred to on-screen as Parker, since neither he nor his estate would allow it. In Point Blank, the character was named Walker and in Payback, he was Porter. So it's irony writ large that Parker, over the course of two dozen novels, could not be killed by fist, bullet or knife, yet he was done-in by the complete misfire of the film that finally bared his name.
Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez
Director: Taylor Hackford
Screenwriter: John J. McLaughlin, based on the novel Flashfire by Donald Westlake
Producers: Stratton Leopold, Brad Luff
Rating: R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity
Running time: 118 min.
Release date: January 25, 2013