I was introduced to the world of antiheroes when I was boy. I know all about those characters whom you know you shouldn’t root for, but you do anyway because there’s something that’s so undeniably appealing about them. Whether it’s Snake Plissken in “Escape From New York” or Doc McCoy in “The Getaway” (the original, not the cruddy remake), we find ourselves wanting them to get away with their crimes because there’s nothing about these characters that’s fake or dishonest. That’s great thing about going to the movies, you can indulge in your dark side and share in the exploits of the bad guy in a way that’s fine because you know you never would in real life (common sense does kick in for the majority of us).
I was looking forward to “Parker” as it features one of the most well-known antiheroes in both books and movies, Parker the professional thief. We’ve seen this character on screen before in “Point Blank’ and “Payback” where they were portrayed by Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson, and now action star Jason Statham gets to play him under the direction of Oscar nominated director (and Mr. Helen Mirren) Taylor Hackford. To quote from the movie “Miami Blues,” Parker’s like Robin Hood but he doesn’t necessarily give the money he steals back to the poor people. While he shows no remorse in being the criminal he is, he does have a couple of rules he has set down for himself: he never steals from those who can’t afford it, and he does not hurt innocent people. While crime makes most people seriously stupid, at least Parker has a brain.
The movie starts with Parker, ironically dressed as a priest, robbing a county fair along with four accomplices. During the robbery, he makes clear the kind of robber he is, and I almost expected his conversation to sound something like this:
“I don’t steal from poor people and I don’t hurt anybody who doesn’t deserve it… Hey security guard, don’t hand me your wallet! I’m not stealing your money! I know you make barely more than minimum wage and that’s not necessarily your fault. Now it’s my accomplices here who really need to be worried because they don’t have my brains or charisma (let alone my good looks), and they also are far greedier than I will ever be. They don’t care about human life the way I do, and while they might shoot me in a second if that’s what it takes to shut me the f— up, but they won’t hesitate to shoot you if the situation calls for it.”
Now this conversation never really happens in a movie because these thieves are in a hurry to rob this place and get out of it before the cops show up, but it demonstrates my big problem with “Parker:” we have seen this story so many times before, and there’s nothing new brought to this material. What we get is an utterly predictable movie which takes us through situations that we already know the outcome to long before its unsurprising conclusion.
From there, you know that Parker’s band of thieves led by that heartless bastard Melander (Michael Chiklis) will leave him out to dry, and it takes no time for them to pull a double cross and leave him for dead on the side of the road. But of course, they also tell Parker about their next big job before putting a bullet in him, and they end up putting that bullet in a part of his body that doesn’t render him instantly dead. Then again, if they did, there would be no movie.
It’s cool to have Statham in a role like this because you know he’s a true bad ass that doesn’t fake anything in any action movies he does. That really is him jumping out of a moving SUV, and few other actors can even come close to convincing you that they have done the same thing. He also makes Parker’s recovery from his seriously painful injuries seem more believable than it has any right to be, and you look forward to the moment where he gets his vengeance on those who do not respect his code of ethics. At the same time, Statham ends up doing one of the worst Texan accents I have ever heard an actor give, and I can’t help but wonder if that was on purpose or if he really thought he was doing it right.
Truth be told, Hackford has assembled a strong cast to portray Parker’s criminal cronies which includes Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., and Daniel Bernhardt. The one standout though is Michael Chiklis who doesn’t hide from the fact that his character of Melander is a real dick. Many might think that Chiklis is just out to resurrect his character of Vic Mackey from “The Shield” with this role, but while Mackey has his redeemable qualities, Melander has none. The only downside is that Chiklis is forced to spew out a lot of clichéd dialogue in “Parker,” and that threatens to make this role seem far beneath him as a result.
But the big surprise of “Parker” is the performance by Jennifer Lopez as the unsuccessful real estate agent Leslie Rogers. Playing a down on her luck woman who has been dealt a bad hand in life might seem like the wrong role for Lopez to play, but she gives this movie the bounce it doesn’t necessarily deserve. The sad thing is that many will not be willing to give Lopez the credit she deserves as they are overcome with this image they have her from her music career and her years on “American Idol,” and I get the feeling that they are prepared to hate her no matter what she does. In the end that says more about them than her because this is really the best role Lopez has had since “Out of Sight.”
The other cool thing about “Parker” is how visceral the action sequences are. Hackford is smart not to make his main character an invulnerable character as he gets hurt and bruised like any other human being. I love watching fight scenes in movies where you feel the pain as opposed to just watching it from a distance, and there is an especially brutal fight between Statham and Bernhardt in a condominium that has to be seen to be believed.
Other than that, I did dig the rock and roll music score by David Buckley, and there is a good and feisty supporting performance by Patti LuPone as Lopez’s mom. But when all is said and done, “Parker” doesn’t differ from many movies like it and that proves to be its major downfall. For Hackford this represented a chance to make a movie in a genre he hadn’t tackled before, the crime thriller, but he doesn’t bring anything new or fresh to this material which is infinitely frustrating. As a result, many people will be bored by it rather than enthralled, and that’s a real shame considering the talent involved.