A routine thug convention called Parker is a complete master class by veteran director Taylor Hackford in how to turn a yawn into a snore. He’s made some memorable movies in his day (An Officer and a Gentleman, White Nights, Ray). This is not one of them.
Based on Flashfire, one in a series of overrated crime thrillers about a hard-boiled career criminal named Parker concocted by late pulp-fiction writer Donald Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark, it comes from the same typewriter that wrote the character into much better movies, including Point Blank with Lee Marvin (1967) and Payback with Mel Gibson (1999). The name changed, but the character was the same: a ruthless rogue, hell-bent on revenge, but with a code of ethics. The concept is so old it’s hairy, but the thing that turns it unbearable now is Jason Statham, the bald, unshaven, marble-faced action star from the hokey, stupid, one-note Transporter franchise. He can’t act, and watching him try is one of life’s more masochistic tortures. Mr. Hackford doesn’t know what to do with him, and the movie is barely getting started when he gives up the struggle altogether. My sympathy knows no bounds.
Parker begins with Mr. Statham heading an operation to rob the Ohio State Fair. Dressed like a priest and wearing a gray wig, it’s the closest he gets to looking one step above the cliché of a chiseled thug. Betrayed, beaten, riddled with multiple gunshot wounds and left for dead by his gang, he emerges miraculously to plot his revenge. All he wants is his share of the take—no more, no less—and he’ll travel from one end of the map to the other to get it, killing anyone who gets in his way. The trip takes him from Ohio to Florida, where he searches for the hangout of the chief hood who double-crossed him, posing as a Texas tycoon pretending to be shopping for a Palm Beach mansion with the aid of the kind of dirt-poor but breathtaking real estate agent you only find in movies with big budgets. (This one clocks in at $30 million, and not a dollar of it is visible with a telescope.) The realtor doesn’t come in until the second half of the movie. She is played by Jennifer Lopez, who lives at home with her trashy, soap-opera-addicted mother, played by none other than Patti LuPone. None of this is even distantly plausible, but the movie is so dull that it’s the first time I have waited in breathless anticipation for J.Lo to enter.
Once she becomes part of the plot, nothing improves, but at least there’s something swell to look at. A smoke puff of a romance begins, but when she figures out how many people Parker has killed, she asks “How do you sleep at night?” He narrows his eyes, locks his molars and answers: “I don’t drink coffee after seven.” Can you believe this dialogue was penned by John J. McLaughlin, who wrote Hitchcock? When J.Lo discovers that Parker’s former gang has switched gears to a $75 million jewel robbery, she becomes his partner in exchange for a commission. The requisite violence, bloodshed, gunplay and broken bones that follow are numbingly familiar, and the running time of less than two hours seems like more than two days. Taylor Hackford’s sketchy, edit-obsessed direction jumps time frames with such frequency you wonder, scene by scene, if you’re in the same movie, making the zero chemistry between the two stars totally understandable. Nick Nolte wanders in and out of the mix, looking bewildered.
The biggest problem with Parker is an absence of tone, due in part to the complete lack of personality displayed by Parker himself, as played by Mr. Statham like a paralyzed nerve. His working-class British accent sounds more like outback Australian. He never modulates his muttering but says everything with a locked jaw, and he fires a gun like he’s nonchalantly rolling a joint. J.Lo may be the best reason to see this movie. She works hard to appear perky and involved, but kissing Mr. Statham looks painful, like rubbing glossy lips across a steel brush used to clean charcoal off a backyard grill. For an old-fashioned crime thriller, you need real pros. Mr. Statham is to acting what Taco Bell is to nutrition. Mr. Hackford must see something in Mr. Statham nobody else does, but the ability to carry a movie on his own is my idea of misplaced faith—what Irving Berlin called putting all your eggs in the wrong basket.
Running Time 118 minutes
Written by John J. McLaughlin and Donald E. Westlake (novel)
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez and Michael Chiklis