There isn’t an actor more typecast at the moment than Jason Statham. Regardless of whether or not a film in which he stars is based on already existing material (this one is), no matter the talent around him or directing him, you know the type of film you’re going to get. Sure, there are exceptions, but these are few and far between, and have done nothing to alter public opinion. You go into a Jason Statham movie and you know what you’re going to get. That sentiment holds true with Parker.
There are a bunch of novels, written by Donald Westlake (under the pen name “Richard Stark”), that have this Parker character. This film is a loose adaptation of the 19th one, Flashfire. I’m sure that means something to someone. Statham plays Parker, a good man but also a thief. He and a group of people pull off a job at the start of the film, and surprising absolutely nobody, he gets betrayed and left for dead. Well, not even left for dead; the other people shoot him — presumably in the face, although we don’t see the shot; yes, I thought that might matter later on, but it doesn’t — and roll him into a river.
Also surprising nobody, Parker survives and now wants revenge. That’s what gets built up for the next hour and a half. There is a ton of time wasted trying to get Statham’s character back into a position to take down the people who betrayed him. It’s an hour into Parker when we finally meet the second-billed actor, Jennifer Lopez, playing Leslie, a real estate agent in Palm Beach, which just happens to be the place to which the other criminals have relocated — because they need to pull off a bigger heist despite getting away with more than $200,000 the last time.
Okay, so it’s a revenge film. What’s Parker’s main reason for wanting revenge? Well, it’s a matter of principle, so he says. Nick Nolte has a role in this film, and it’s not to be the secret mastermind behind the whole operation like you might expect. He offers Parker the $200,000 to avoid any confrontation, but Parker declines because it’s all about principles. That is his entire motivation behind taking these guys down.
None of this movie holds up on close inspection. Why does Leslie’s mother (Patti LuPone) at one point bring in a brutally injured Parker without ever having met him? Who cares? How do the two heists in this film actually work? It’s a movie; most of these couldn’t be executed in real life. This is a Jason Statham film. You kind of know what you’re getting into, right? You can’t go in and expect to not suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours.
The thing about that is that many of the movies starring Statham are well-paced or exciting enough to keep your mind from thinking about these sorts of things. There’s enough action to keep your eyes engaged, so your mind doesn’t start wandering. Because Parker takes so long to really get going — and even once it does, there isn’t a lot of action — and there are no characters to grab a hold of, your mind is going to be waning. Being bored in an action-thriller like this one is the absolute worst crime the filmmakers can commit.
Jennifer Lopez has no reason to be in this movie. She is not the love interest — Parker has a girlfriend played by Emma Booth — and her character doesn’t do a single helpful thing outside of providing exposition. She is there to do just that, and to become a victim later on. Director Taylor Hackford doesn’t know how to transition from a scene where Lopez explains her entire character’s back story and motivation to an action scene with any efficiency or grace. Both come across as awkward and clunky. Statham and Lopez also have no chemistry, even though Lopez by herself manages to create at least a little bit of sympathy for her character.
What few action scenes we get are generally fine. There are fewer of them than you’d expect from a Statham-led film, but that’s not in and of itself a problem. What we do get are very bloody and quite violent, even if all of the actors involved no-sell until they’re dead. Seriously, you walk away from one of these scenes seeing how much damage has been done to each character, and you wonder why nobody got stunned for even a moment during the flurry of shots they were taking.
The only range that Statham shows in this film is in his attempt at a Southern drawl. When he meets Leslie, he’s in disguise-mode as a millionaire from Texas. So, Statham has to put on the accent. It’s not so much that it’s bad, but since Statham mumbles a lot of the time anyway, this makes it even worse. I was laughing during each one of these scenes. The only actor who seems to have any fun here is Michael Chiklis, who plays the leader of the villains.
Parker is occasionally exciting, but it takes way too long to get to the point where it’s enjoyable, meaning much of the audience is going to get lost before that point. I know I was. I found my brain wandering, wondering how exactly any of this could actually take place. A Jason Statham-led action movie can’t be boring. This one is about what you’d expect once it gets rolling, and for its target audience, it will be appreciated. There is no action star working that is more reliable than Jason Statham.