Movie review: Parker

Update: My opinion isn’t the only one. I’m adding links to thoughts from fellow Parker fans (often quite different from mine) at the bottom of the post.

Parker is terrible.

Almost everything about it is awful. It opens well enough, with a heist set at the Ohio State Fair, which is exciting and well-filmed, until the stupid kicks in. And it kicks in awfully quickly. The designated idiot member of the crew almost ruins everything by making a mistake that makes no sense–it’s not an honest error, it’s “Golly gee! I don’t know my head from my ass! Because I’m so stupid!” There’s an excuse in the script as to why someone so stupid is in this line of business in the first place, but that excuse is as stupid as the character.

And there is problem numero uno. The script is appallingly bad. It shows its awfulness in the “Well, it’s an action movie! Let it go!” moment mentioned in the above paragraph, and it gets worse with the ridiculous “Code of Conduct” garbage that I was worried was going to be the downfall of this movie.

I was wrong about that. The “Code of Conduct” nonsense was not the downfall of this movie. It’s only a downfall of this movie.

Nobody involved seems to have had any idea whatsoever of what makes a heist movie, much less a Parker movie, work. Exhibit A, and it’s early enough along that I don’t think it counts as a spoiler: The exposition on why Melander (Michael Chiklis) and the gang are screwing over Parker is so abbreviated you couldn’t blame the audience for having no idea what’s going on. Rather than build suspense, it’s all about “Let’s get this over with so Statham can kick his way out of the vehicle in the scene that everyone’s seen in the TV commercial!”

The script doesn’t care about the story.

Except for when, suddenly, it does. It cares in the moments where the writer (John J. McLaughlin) decides he’s better than Donald Westlake and puts his own stamp on Flashfire, basis of this abortion. We get humanizing moments of Claire and Claire’s dad. We get Claire living in a house easier to break into than my old shitty one that was robbed three times, when I owned little of value and wasn’t common-law married to a master thief who would not have ever let me be in a weak situation like that. We get utter preposterousness with Leslie and Leslie’s mom and Parker. We get flashbacks, for the love of Mike. We get a whole lot of what the fuck? And I got to listen to a whole lot of laughter from the audience at the screening I saw, none of it intended by the makers.

Every possible decision involved in the storytelling of this movie (with an exception or two that I’ll get to) was the wrong decision. “Comic” relief? Big time. Unnecessary subplots? Oh, yeah, and they forgot to resolve at least one, or maybe my eyes were so glazed over by that point I didn’t notice the resolution. Plot holes? There will be one hundred fewer cliches in this blog post than there are in the movie if I write, “So big you can drive a Mack truck through them.”

Let me give an example of the appalling writing. (I suppose I should mention spoiler alert, not that anyone should care.) In the novel, when Parker makes Leslie strip down so he can check if she has a wire, Leslie is scared. She’s in over her head and wasn’t expecting this. It’s suspenseful, even for those of us who had read every prior book. “What is this guy going to do to me?” she’s thinking, and even though we know Parker isn’t going to rape her or kill her, Westlake is so good you see the scene through her eyes and feel what she’s going through in this moment.

In the movie? Well, she wants to fuck him from the second she sets eyes on him, so who the hell cares if he makes her take her clothes off?

A clue to screenwriters everywhere: A character a little let down because she didn’t get laid (and not even a good job is done at conveying that) is a lot less suspenseful than a character afraid for her life. But so long as you put your own stamp on it, it’s all good, right?

There is no suspense. Everyone knows the scene is going to lead to nothing, and it does exactly that. But at least you put your own stamp on the material! You won’t be a slave to that old hack, Donald Westlake.

Which brings us to the direction.

Taylor Hackford made a point in interviews of saying he wasn’t an action director, so this was somewhat new territory for him.

And that’s a problem, because it looks to me like he was so worried about not delivering on the action scenes that he concentrated on those and not everything else that should be part of a good movie. The action scenes are about the only things that work here, whereas the things a good director is supposed to do (directing actors, creating drama, filling in all of those spaces that are supposed to make the damn action scenes have some resonance to the viewer) he didn’t do. He forgot about the stuff in between. If we’re talking Statham movies, The Transporter, with all its cliches and clumsiness, is far better at the things Taylor Hackford is supposed to be good at!

To elaborate: Hackford gets piss-poor performances out of talented actors, some of whom show traits of what might have been when the direction isn’t so self-conscious that it has to remind us thirty-five times that Jennifer Lopez has a reputation for having a healthy posterior. (If most of the action wasn’t in Palm Beach, it wouldn’t have surprised me if “Honkey Tonk Badonkadonk” had fired up on the soundtrack with all the men in the diner or bar spilling their drinks and walking into posts or something because they are staring at her ass. It’s this obvious.)

Graces, if not quite saving ones:

There are a handful of nods to other Parker novels and Point Blank so when you get bored, you can play “Spot the Reference.” The downside is, they absorbed all that and thought they could do a better job with just a few tweaks. Bad calls on the tweaks, fellas.

The third act is decent, relative to the rest of the movie. It would have been hard to go downhill after the first two, and thank goodness it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong–there are still awful things in the third act. It’s just better than the other two.

Jason Statham is good enough, and I can see that he might have worked as Parker in a competently-mounted motion picture production.

The cinematography is excellent. Whoever did that and his crew deserve better gigs than this one. Good luck, crew!

The scene in the fake ID shop is excellent, but also heartbreaking because it gives us a glimpse of what might have been.

So those are the good parts.

There will be no sequel. There will be no franchise. In fifteen years, this will be as forgotten as The Split. Maybe that’s the good news. Someone may give Parker another chance on screen someday, and give the material the opportunity it deserves.

For those keeping score, directors John Boorman, John Flynn, and Brian Helgeland had a clue. Point Blank and The Outfit are the best adaptations, Payback (director’s cut) is the most faithful.

If you’re looking for a recent adaptation worth a damn, it’s Darwyn Cooke. I don’t think I ever appreciated him more than I did tonight.

I saw this movie at midnight and am hitting the Publish button at about 4:30 AM. All in the line of duty, I suppose, but you’ll excuse me if this wasn’t the most coherent thing I’ve ever written.

Goodnight, folks. Maybe I’ll wake up in the morning and this will turn out to have been a bad dream.

Update: VWOP regular David liked it a good bit more than I did. His review is here.

Update 2: Max Allan Collins likes it more than David did. He shares his thoughts.

Update 3: Patrick of At the Scene of the Crime likes it a lot.

Update 4: Vern has a not-kind review that could be an expansion of my thoughts.