Director: Taylor Hackford
Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Michah Hauptman, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Emma Booth, Nick Nolte, Bobby Cannavale, Patti LuPone, Carlos Carrasco
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 1/25/13
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 25, 2013
It would be easy to dismiss Parker (Jason Statham) as an amoral character, but it wouldn't necessarily be accurate. Surely, he does subscribe to any set of moral standards as defined by law. The man is, after all, a career criminal, but to suggest that he does not follow a moral code would not be true. He has a fairly strict set of rules for himself, and Parker is more than happy to follow its eponymous anti-hero down the path established by those guidelines, if only because, well, there are other characters in the movie who don't even have his low standards.
Parker declares his rules early in the movie: "I don't steal from people who can't afford it; I don't hurt people who don't deserve it." That he announces his mantra during the course of a robbery, as he and his cohorts wave and point guns at people, is perhaps something of a comfort for those he is robbing, although one can't help but wonder if any of them are thinking what we're thinking at that moment: Who is this guy to decide those things? Another character answers that later in the movie with a vague, "He is who he is." The statement does not help.
Statham is the key here. This is an actor whom one believes could stand a chance in a staring contest against a brick wall and who comes across intimidating even while donning a cowboy hat and appropriating a ridiculous—intentionally so—Texas accent. He's also a little compassionate—relatively so—in a few brief moments, such as when a yipping dog is quieted by sitting on his knee ("Dogs like me") or when he, disguised as a priest, talks a security guard down from a panic attack in the middle of the opening robbery sequence. The punch line to that second moment, which plays on the costume, only works because Statham is sincere during Parker's impromptu therapy session.
In a way, Parker's code defines the plot of the movie, as the character must be in a situation where he believes some people deserve to be hurt for anything to happen. The opportunity rises after the opening, in which Parker and a team of four other thieves—leader Melander (Michael Chiklis), nephew-of-a-Chicago-mob-boss Hardwicke (Michah Hauptman), and two others (Clifton Collins Jr. and Wendell Pierce) who have a line occasionally—steal the box office money from the Ohio State Fair. Melander has another job planned and wants to use the entire haul as seed money for it; Parker just wants his cut. By the end of the debate, the crew leaves Parker for dead on the side of the road.
Parker's goal is simple: get revenge on the men who did this to him (His rationale is that chaos is the only result when an agreement is not met, and "No one likes chaos"). It becomes ever-so-slightly more complicated when the syndicate leader gets involved, sending men to track down Parker and the few loved ones he has—his partner in crime Hurley (Nick Nolte) and his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth)—who are introduced in a sloppy series of flashbacks during the opening sequence.
After that clumsy setup of the little back story and exposition, John J. McLaughlin's screenplay (based on the novel Flashfire by Richard Stark—the 19th book in a series about the character) is barebones and to-the-point. There are no left turns into betrayals (Even though Hurley's character is screaming for such a development, he's a loyal associate) or unnecessary complications (Even though Claire seems set up as a victim, she deftly escapes an assassination attempt). What we see is what we get.
The same goes for Parker, who sets out on his mission to right the wrong committed against him without any distractions. One arrives, though, in the form of Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a realtor in financial trouble who's trying to find just one client who will help her get a big commission. The reason for the two becoming connected is too hackneyed to explain concisely (It involves a talkative villain mentioning a house and, of course, the disguise that compels him to talk with his best approximation of a Texas twang), and their resulting scenes together (extended montages of house hunting, debates over her involvement in the plan to rob the four who wronged him, awkward development of sexual tension between the two—or maybe just on one side) only serve to stall the momentum director Taylor Hackford has managed to build.Eventually, the simplicity of Parker gets the better of it. Yes, the movie stays true to Parker's no-frills style of criminality, unapologetically goes along with his morality (no matter how warped that may be), and offers a few solid action sequences (The highlight is a brutal, knock-down, drag-out fight in a hotel room, where we almost think an open balcony door is a fake-out—though it never is). Parker may have a certain appeal, but that can only get one so far.
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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