Jason Statham, starring in a big-screen version of Donald Westlake’s series of Parker novels, should have been a slam-dunk.
The menacing Statham seems ideal in a role previously played by actors like Lee Marvin, Mel Gibson, and Robert Duvall, with Taylor Hackford, the director of Ray, The Devil’s Advocate, and Blood In, Blood Out – behind the camera, this should have been a damn solid film.
Instead, Parker takes its place as probably the worst Statham vehicle since his Jet Li team-up movie, War.
How did it all go so wrong? Well, rather than stick close to the amoral Parker of the page, Hackford and writer John J. McLaughlin have turned him into yet another Statham anti-hero, virtually indistinguishable from The Transporter or his other, less memorable characters.
Their Parker has a strict moral code where he never steals from people who can’t afford it, and would seemingly
sooner die than have an innocent person suffer as a result of his crimes. This is nice, but it’s not really the vicious Parker that made for such a popular series of books, which
begs the question: Why bother doing this series if you’re going to eliminate what makes him unique?
The tagline of Payback, “get ready to root for the bad guy” was exactly how the audience should feel watching a Parker film. Here- Parker’s a true-blue hero to the core, who just happens to be a thief.
All this could be forgiven if Parker was at least an entertaining Statham actioner, but it’s incredibly shabby in that department. Being a heist film, way too much time is spent planning a caper that’s not the least bit interesting.
Statham is charismatic, and a damn good action hero, but he’s no master of disguises like Parker is meant to be here, and in the first heist, he looks like the world’s least convincing priest, only to make for an even more ridiculous Texan, complete with a ten-gallon hat later in the movie.
His ruse, not to mention the slippery accent he adopts in these scenes, is so lame that you wonder if Parker is always this incompetent, and why he isn’t behind bars?
Again, this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if there was some good action, but other than a few quick scraps early in the film and few quick gunfights, a huge chunk of the movie goes by where the focus is shifted to Jennifer Lopez’ goofy real-estate agent, who’s trying to make enough money so she can stop living with her stereotypical Latina mother (Patti LuPone).
Lopez is actually okay in the part, but she seems to have walked in from another movie – and she clashes badly with Statham. Their chemistry is non-existent (not that Statham’s ever really been convincing as a romantic lead), which is probably why Hackford ditches the idea of a romantic pairing early on. At least she gets to strip down to her lingerie in a nicely gratuitous scene, and its worth saying: J Lo still looks fine.
Another thing that can be said about Lopez is that she seems to be trying (as does Bobby Cannavale, who’s utterly wasted in a couple of short scenes). Everyone else seems to be phoning it in, with Nick Nolte growling all of his nearly indecipherable dialogue in a handful of scenes as Parker’s mentor, while Michael Chiklis comes off as much less menacing than he did on the late, great The Shield. Not that you can blame him, as the script is loaded with all the “heist gone wrong” clichés you can imagine.
As always, I hate giving Statham a bad review, as he’s the one guy in Hollywood who seems totally dedicated to doing lean, mean action flicks- but Parker is a straight-up dud. It’s his worst film in a long-time, and a real missed opportunity, as given the source material and the talent involved, this should have been a lot of fun.
— Chris Bumbray (JoBlo)