Jason Statham and Donald E. Westlake’s Parker are a perfect match on paper. After all, Westlake’s iconic character (whose vengeful charms flavored over 20 books) is a clever crook with a unique sense of justice and a taste for snarky one-liners. That’s Statham’s bread and butter, and the character of Parker has severed as the basis for several beloved crime flicks. Lee Marvin slathered his badassitude all over the character in John Boorman’s iconic revenge movie/editorial masterclass Point Blank, Robert Duvall proved a healthy hairline wasn’t necessary for the role in John Flynn’s gritty and underrated The Outfit, and Mel Gibson delivered one of his last great pre-ranting roles as a Parker surrogate in the darkly comic Payback. In all three movies the character’s name was changed (to Walker, Macklin, and Porter respectively) at Westlake’s request. However after the author passed in 2008, Parker became fair game and a project was pulled together with the name right up front in the title. Statham seemed like the man for the job to take on those duties, but unfortunately for the currently rolling-over-in-his-grave Westlake, the movie itself is far from ideal. In the past, the filmmakers nailed Westlake’s tone without officially having the character at his disposal and sadly now we finally have a proper Parker movie it’s easily his worst onscreen representation to date. On the plus side, Westlake didn’t have to see it happen.
The film opens with Jason Statham dressed as a priest for a cheap laugh, pulling off a complex heist of a state fair with a handful of cronies to take those carnies for a ride. Then Parker’s partners, led by Michael Chiklis (who seems to have forgotten how to act since The Shield), insist that Statham give his money to the group to finance the next, even bigger heist. He refuses, so Chiklis and company beat the crap out of Statham with fists and bullets and leave him in a ditch for dead. At lease one of them should have read a Parker book before partnering up with him (especially since this is based on one of Westlake’s later novels). If they had, they’d know there’s no one better at doling out vengeance. They should have made sure that guy was dead. But nope, Parker rises and heads to Florida to take back what’s his. Rather than simply cracking skulls right off the bat, he waits for the group to pull off their super-heist to take the big money. To track them down he poses as a cowboy (I’m not kidding) and befriends Jennifer Lopez’s struggling real estate agent and her Latin soap loving, overbearing, mini-dog owning, stereotype of a mother to help pull off the job. Guess who comes out on top? Hint: have you seen a Jason Statham movie?
Aside from the name and the general revenge plot, this really isn’t a Parker movie. Push those high standards out of your mind because it belongs very deeply to the genre Statham has made for himself. Director Taylor Hackford (the Director’s Guild of America president who made Ray and An Officer and a Gentleman) whips a decent opening heist and one solid knife fight on a hotel balcony later on, but other than that his movie is a complete waste of time because there’s nothing at all here that hasn’t been done before and better, not just by Statham, but by other actors, directors, and action stars.
Statham is fine because he just scours and beats people up, but the filmmaker’s attempts to costume him as a cowboy and a priest are as laughable as when Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to play a suburban father (and let’s not even get into what Statham thinks is a Texas accent). Jennifer Lopez flaunts how low her career has sunk by taking on a sad ethnic stereotype and stripping down almost nude while playing second fiddle in a D-grade Jason Statham movie. To be fair to her and the rest of the underwhelming cast, the script is just awful offering nothing resembling rounded characters and dialogue gems like, “pizza, I love that shit” (a line that qualifies as the high point of Clifton Collins Jr.’s entire role). No one could have pulled off parts defined entirely by loving pizza and robberies and everyone involved is probably already pretending they had nothing to do with this swill.
Now, despite the almost sacrilegious waste of the title character and amateur hour writing, this is a Jason Statham movie that could have benefited from some strong action and ridiculous humor like The Transporter series. Maybe if Luc Besson was in charge, but Hackford’s discomfort with the genre leads to slack pacing and one of the most pathetic climatic heists I’ve ever seen (no one should be allowed to put Michael Chiklis in scuba gear). So, what you’re left with is a dull Jason Statham movie with only two decent outbursts of violence and little-to-no humor. Unless you’re desperate to see J-Lo’s career bottom out, there’s really no need to waste time and money on this. Hopefully one day a filmmaker with make a worthy Westlake adaptation with the name Parker intact, but sadly the flick with that name in the title just isn’t it.