"Mah suthuhn ay-ksent eeyus sew bayud thayut they hayuv tew tern it intuh a runnin' joke."
It turns out, Jason Statham makes a pretty good Parker. If you’ve read any (or all) of the books in Richard Stark’s brilliant crime series, you know that a good Parker needs to be a man of few words. He has to be violent and honorable. He’s got to be physically capable of taking on anybody in a fight, but he still loses more than a few of those confrontations, too. And he has to be fastidious about his planning. Statham has already been playing variations on these themes for the last decade. He’s got the best reflexes in the action-movie business but he takes a beating, too; it’s best when he talks less; and his characters are usually OCD in one way or another.
So Statham’s a pretty good choice for Stark’s always-planning heister, and all through Parker, you can see subtle little touches that demonstrate the best parts of the character. When Parker’s stealing a car to get away from the carnival heist-gone-bad that starts the movie, you see Statham momentarily consider a limousine before running the scenario through his head—too risky—and then moving on. Parker plants a few contingency weapons before the final shootout that he never gets around to using, which is a surprisingly naughty thrill in the leave-no-dot-unconnected world of Hollywood.
Unfortunately, just about everything else about Parker sucks.
The direction, by the unfortunately named Taylor Hackford, is workmanlike at its strongest points. For some reason, Hackford inserts unnecessary flashbacks into the film at odd intervals, at one point “flashing back” to an event we saw five minutes before in the film, with no additional information provided in the flashback. It’s just wasted space. A decent cast (Michael Chiklis as a villain is always a good thing, Nick Nolte as a semi-retired heister is even better, Patti LuPone as a soap-opera-addicted Palm Beach retiree is the best idea ever) is wasted with dull dialogue. And Jennifer Lopez, as a character who might as well be named “Stupid Girl,” is just terrible. We’ve come a long way from Lopez’s crime debut in Soderbergh’s Out of Sight—now that she’s been through the celebrity wringer, she seems less interested in acting and more interested in being a personality.
There are a few entertaining bits in Parker—it never gets better than the opening heist, which ably demonstrates everything likable about Parker, and Parker’s escape after the heist goes wrong, which demonstrates his callous ability to do whatever it takes to survive—and the fight scenes are delightfully gory. But too much of it is just plain boring, with info dump after info dump and tons of momentum-killing scenes designed to “feature” Lopez. When you get right down to it, this is a dumb movie about a very smart character, and the pleasures don’t outweigh the bores. The Parker books deserve be adapted into a series of prestige movies, each headlined by a different high-profile director, Mission: Impossible-style. Statham could even star in that series. But Parker isn’t good enough to demand that series, and so fans will have to wait a while longer for Hollywood to do it right.