Niagara Gazette

January 29, 2013

CALLERI: Jason Statham scores in 'Parker'

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — For movie fans, the month of January is the doldrums, and the past few weeks have seen a rash of less than satisfying motion pictures. The major studios had so little faith in these films that they refused to screen them for critics across the country.

Most of these January releases fail at the box office and disappear quickly. Chances are you haven’t rushed out to see recent studio efforts such as “Gangster Squad,” “Broken City,” “The Last Stand,” “Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters,” “A Haunted House,” “Movie 43,” or “Race 2.”

I saw “Gangster Squad” and “Broken City” in virtually empty theaters after they opened. Neither merit your attention. Tossed in with these lackluster performers were “Mama” and “Parker,“ neither of which were pre-screened, but they are a cut above the typical January junk. I reviewed “Mama” in last week’s Night & Day.

“Parker” also deserves your attention. Although “The Expendables” proved that there is still some love for older action stars, the truth of the matter is that audiences always enjoy cheering for someone new.

Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger promises to make more films (he’s currently in “The Last Stand”), Sylvester Stallone has the unfortunately-named “Bullet To The Head” coming up, and Bruce Willis will be back soon with a fifth “Die Hard” movie. But eventually these action-oriented gentlemen will have to stop making films. They may never retire. They’ll simply fade away. Who will replace them?

That fellow is already here. He’s Jason Statham.

I'm a huge fan of “The Transporter” and “Transporter 3” (“Transporter 2” not so much), the very good movies featuring the extreme driver Frank Martin, played by Statham, the former British Olympic diver and self-avowed street hustler. I enjoy most of his work, especially the first “Transporter,” which is a nearly perfect action picture, as well as “The Bank Job,” one of my favorite heist films. Even when he’s in a supporting role, as with “Cellular,” Statham brings his usual rough, taciturn masculinity to his role.

Parker is the creation of crime novelist Donald E. Westlake, writing under the pseudonym Richard Stark. The character has appeared in 24 novels and in some movies, the most interesting of which is John Boorman’s “Point Blank” from 1967 and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. The new “Parker” is based on the book “Flashfire.”

As all believable major characters should, Parker creates an allure for the audience, which has to be willing to go along for the ride, in this case, a ride involving nasty crooks and deadly gunmen. Parker is a thief, but he lives by a serious code of conduct. Steal only from the rich, obey his rules, and don’t ever double-cross him. He may be violent, but that’s because he’s a man of few words. However, violence is a last resort for him. The fictional Parker doesn’t always want to, but if he has to, he will take apart his enemies.

The good-looking movie (J. Michael Muro did the cinematography) has an early heist at the Ohio State Fair that goes sour, which will compel Parker to seek revenge on the gang that tried to kill him. The film then moves to Palm Beach, Florida where Parker learns of what would a bigger and better heist, $50-million in jewels. But he’s torn between getting even with those early betrayers or becoming really, really rich.

There’s an interesting mix of characters, including a low-life played by Michael Chiklis and a real estate broker whose daily existence is so dull that she wants in on the Palm Beach score. She’s played by Jennifer Lopez, who is quite good here. Chiklis is always enjoyably scary. A delightful Nick Nolte is a crusty old-timer with good ideas for making illegal money.

The film falters a bit because the thugs who stab Parker in the back are too over-the-top in terms of their brutal behavior. As with many contemporary action movies, the gunplay in “Parker” is excessive, which detracts from the main character’s persona. Yes, he can be lethal, but he also has an intelligence that is fun to experience. We need more brainwork and less blood.

Director Taylor Hackford (“An Officer And A Gentleman,” “Ray”) is not an action filmmaker, but he manages to keep the pacing strong. Where he and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin slip up is by relying too much on the brutality. Parker may be a rough and tumble antihero, but even an antihero feels pain. Or should. The character bounces back too quickly and too often from attacks that would cripple almost anyone.

Hackford and McLaughlin have turned fiction into fantasy. This doesn’t ruin the movie, but it makes it less solidly entertaining. The good news is that Statham gives it his all and succeeds.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.