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Painfully Average

Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte

ENGAGING AND NUANCED: Surprisingly, Jennifer Lopez is a breath of fresh air in ‘Parker’. Courtesy Photo.

ENGAGING AND NUANCED: Surprisingly, Jennifer Lopez is a breath of fresh air in ‘Parker’. Courtesy Photo.

I like a good crime film—the kind with disreputable people in a perpetual state of double-cross, stabbing each other in the back for large sums of blood money. Richard Stark’s “Parker” series of novels is the kind of cold, calculating criminal that makes for great literary fiction. The character has made the leap to film a few times, most recently in the 1999 Mel Gibson film “Payback.” Now, the character has been resuscitated again by Jason Statham in this action/thriller.

First off, I’d like to suggest filmmakers stop naming movies after the lead characters. It’s a trend that’s growing more cloying. Sure, it sometimes works on movies like “Forrest Gump” or “Fletch”—dramas and comedies mostly, but it doesn’t seem to be very effective for thrillers. Lately, it seems Hollywood’s laziest trademark comes from uninspiring titles like “Alex Cross,” “John Carter” and “Jack Reacher.” “Parker” is a crap name for a movie; fortunately, it’s a pretty average film, so the mediocre title doesn’t detract too much from the overall product. Generic title. Generic movie.

The last incarnation of the character was at least smart enough to name it “Payback.” That’s a pithy title. In one word, it notes everything; it encapsulates the purpose of the movie and the driving motivation of the character. What the hell does “Parker” say? It tells us the name of the lead character. (Here’s a hint, Hollywood: If you’re trying to get an audience excited about a new thriller, use a verb instead of a name.

Parker (Statham) is a career criminal who pulls off a heist. The crew he’s running with wants him to roll their earnings into a bigger heist. Parker decides he’d rather just take his cut and leave. They decide if he’s not going to be a team player they might as well shoot him in the face.

The opening few minutes are foretelling: It is idiotically simple, and all logic and common sense are abandoned. Even the earliest scenes seem to recklessly eschew from logic. Five guys pull off a successful robbery. Literally, as soon as it’s completed, they start discussing the next job. Within two minutes, they’re shooting each other in the getaway car. The whole scene is awkward and hilariously forced.

So Parker gets screwed of his cut and begins a very long and violent revenge scheme that involves doling out a lot of punishment. Fortunately, punishment is Jason Statham’s medium. Some people work with clay; others are wordsmiths. Statham has mastered the art of pugilism. Unfortunately, there’s a decisive lack of action in the film. There’s a fair amount of gun-toting violence, but “Parker” contains more traditional crimefilm, which is not an excuse to have the hero throw as many roundhouse kicks as humanly possible. That’s a shame, because I think the movie would have been better served by a healthy dose of fist-to-face moments.

Jennifer Lopez shows up as a disenchanted real-estate agent looking for some thrills. She becomes a willing accomplice to Parker’s shenanigans. I was actually pleasantly surprised by Lopez. I almost forgot how good of an actress she was capable of being. This is the first film since Soderbergh’s classic “Out of Sight” where she shows any signs of life. While her character is a thinly written act of convenience, she manages to make it an engaging role—far more nuanced than Statham, who has the emotional range of a discarded refrigerator.

“Parker” is utterly forgettable. It’s not offensively bad or completely useless, but there’s really no point to it. What I liked so much about “Payback” was how remorseless the main character remained. Mel Gibson played the same role with a healthy blend of sarcasm and ruthlessness. Statham only has one mode: steely seriousness. He may be a believable wrecking machine, but he’s hardly a likable one.

Movies like “Parker” are always empty because it’s always about some kind of principle. Early on Parker is offered his cut of the money that was stolen from him if he just walks away. Of course, he can’t do that. He has to find those responsible and punish them because … well, because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise. The idea that Parker is somehow an honorable guy who has to exact revenge over the principle isn’t really delivered with the same dose of irony as it was in “Payback.” Parker is far from a good guy. Yet, as the hero of the piece, the director, Taylor Hackford (“Ray”), tries to frame him that way.

This latest incarnation of “Parker” ends up being a trivial little action thriller that seems most hindered by the inclusion of Statham, who has appeared in so many movies lately it’s hard to tell where one stops and the next one begins. A better take on the character can be found in “Payback” or in the director’s cut “Payback: Straight Up.” Either version is vastly superior to this painfully average production.

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