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Josh Reviews Parker (2013)

I’ve had a fun time watching the many films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  I enjoyed the 2006 Director’s Cut of Payback (which was released theatrically in 1999), though wow, was it dark!  (Click here for my review.)  And now we’ve arrived at 2013’s Parker, starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez.

I remember seeing trailers for this film when it came out, but I ignored them because Parker looked like yet another generic Jason Statham action vehicle.  I actually quite like Mr. Statham as an actor!  I thought he was a hoot in Guy Ritchie’s early films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and he is hilarious in Paul Feig’s 2015 film Spy.  But I haven’t been interested by the many bland-looking action films he’s been putting out for the past decade or so.  Similarly, I know Jennifer Lopez can be a terrific actor.  I think she’s spectacular in Out of Sight, for instance.  I just haven’t been interested in most of the films she’s been in lately.  So while I skipped Parker back in 2013, I was curious to give the film a chance now.  They actually let the filmmakers use the Parker name!  Did that give reason to hope the film had merit??

Parker is adapted from the novel Flashfire.  Jason Statham stars as Parker.  When the film opens, he’s working with a crew in a heist, robbing a state fair.  As usual in these Parker stories, he winds up double-crossed and left for dead.  But he survives, and sets to hunting down his former crew to get revenge.  He tracks them down to Palm Beach, Florida, where they’re working on their next big job.  While undercover, Parker’s path crosses with Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a smart, capable real estate agent who is desperate to get out of her unfortunate situation.  (She’s heavily in-debt and stuck living with her mother.)  Leslie figures out that the under-cover Parker isn’t the wealthy Texan he claims to be, and the two work together to take down Parker’s former crew and get away with the loot.

Parker isn’t bad.  It’s better than I expected.  The cast is strong, and there are some well-executed sequences.  But it’s also not as good as it could have/should have been.  The film is a reasonably entertaining diversion, and I enjoyed watching it.  But I don’t expect it will be a film I’ll rewatch any time soon.

I enjoyed the State Fair heist that opens the film.  That was a clever scheme and I loved the way the sequence was edited in a taut, exciting manner that also allowed us to see many of the small but important details of Parker’s crew’s plan.  There’s another great heist in the third act, whose details I won’t spoil here.  Those two sequences were my favorite parts of the film!

In the car ride after that opening robbery of the State Fair, when the crew turns on Parker, things turned sour for me, and I knew this wasn’t going to be as interesting film as I might have hoped.  The whole sequence was way too obvious and predictable.  Suddenly the entire crew were acting far too clearly evil, in a way that telegraphed to even the least-savvy audience member exactly what was about to happen.  The crew were also dumb enough to give Parker plenty of time to get ready to fight back when they predictably did finally try to kill him.

Unfortunately, too much of the movie is that kind of obvious and dumb.  There’s a “mine is bigger” exchange that is eye-rollingly juvenile, and some unnecessary nudity in the early-going that seems designed to appear to the lowest-common male denominator in the audience.  Though none of that is nearly as embarrassing as the ridiculously gratuitous striptease that they make poor J. Lo do.  Yes, Jennifer Lopez is a beautiful woman.  And I don’t object to nudity in films.  But that sequence is the very definition of gratuitous.  It stuck out to me like a strong thumb.

The film has a strong cast.  I wish they were all used better.  It’s always a delight to see Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme), and Michael Chiklis (The Shield) is entertainingly menacing as the main villain.  Patti LuPone steals every scene she’s in as Leslie’s mom.  Clifton Collins Jr. (The Shield, Westworld, Pacific Rim) is fun in a small role.  The great Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent, Vinyl, Spy, Ant Man, The Irishman) is utterly wasted in an irrelevant role as a cop with a crush on Leslie.

It’s not just that the supporting actors are mostly wasted; I wish that the movie’s stars, Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez, were also used better!  Both are charismatic enough that it’s fun to watch them on-screen even in a mediocre movie.  But this would have been a much better movie had their characters been better developed into interesting, three-dimensional people.  It’s a stretch for me to buy the beautiful and smart Jennifer Lopez as a completely down-on-her luck wallflower.  That’s not a criticism of Ms. Lopez.  She’s terrific in the film.  I just wish we got to know more about Leslie’s past and how she wound up in the tough spot she’s in when we find her.  I wish it made more sense why, after discovering that Parker might be a dangerous con-man, she’d follow him and eventually spill her guts to him.  I wish she wasn’t so dumb in sneaking up to the bad guys’ house at the end.  Jason Statham, meanwhile, doesn’t have much to play other than being tough and persistent.  I get that that’s the core of the Parker character in the books, but I wanted more on screen.  Also, Mr. Statham puts on a Texan accent for a large portion of the film.  I honestly can’t tell whether that’s supposed to be funny or not.  It certainly is ridiculous.

Alright, so we’ve come to the end of my journey through the Parker films, not so much with a whimper, but certainly not with the bang I’d been hoping for.  It’s fascinating to me to discover that none of these films topped 1967’s Point Blank, in my opinion!  It’s been fun seeing the different versions of the Parker character; how this array of very different leading men approached the character, and how these movies made in very different eras of cinema had such distinctly different styles and approaches.  Even the duds were fun to watch.  Thank you for reading!

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