PARKER: Take Off Your Dress

ParkerParker (2013) – Directed by Taylor Hackford – Starring Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., Bobby Cannavale, Patti Lupone, Carlos Carrasco, Michah Hauptman, Emma Booth, Daniel Bernhardt, and Nick Nolte.

Fifteen years.

I was not expecting the number to be that high, but it’s been fifteen years since Jennifer Lopez appeared in Out of Sight. Fifteen years since she delivered the best performance of her career and here she is, starring in another crime thriller, starring as another good woman who gets tangled up with another bad man. Fifteen years ago, she starred opposite George Clooney, under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, and in an Elmore Leonard story, and while I believe you have to look at every film on its own, let’s be clear about a few things.

Jason Statham, who I like, is not nearly the actor George Clooney is.

Taylor Hackford, who I like, is not nearly the director Steven Soderbergh is.

Donald Westlake, who I like, is not nearly the novelist Elmore Leonard is.

And PARKER is not nearly the film Out of Sight is.

Yet despite all of that, here sits Jennifer Lopez, in a movie that is, in no way, the equal of Out of Sight, delivering a performance nearly as good. It begs the question – is there any actress in the last 20 years who’s done a poorer job maxing out their talent than Jennifer Lopez?

I absolutely loathe when people tell others how to live their life. I find it noxious when sportswriters, who are the biggest criminals in this regard, tell athletes or coaches that they should retire, that they’re somehow spoiling their legacy by continuing to play, so I am not here to tell Jennifer Lopez she has lived the last 15 years of her life incorrectly. She’s a woman with many talents and many interests and only she can determine whether those choices were the right ones, whether the artistic and business decisions she’s made have brought her happiness. What I am saying – and I’m saying this from a purely selfish point of view of a guy who’s interested in her acting far more than her music or clothing or talent judging – is that she has great talent as an actress, far greater talent than is revealed in her filmography.

Since Out of Sight, she’s been run through the Hollywood Mill: where men who show that particular mix of acting ability and box office potential get tossed in action movie after action movie, women get tossed into romance flicks and romantic comedies and thrillers/horror movies. Lopez followed up Out of Sight with a unique choice (The Cell), but since then, it’s been largely romantic-driven material. There’s been a few box office hits sprinkled in, but it’s been rare that she’s delivered a performance that tapped into the talent that was so clearly on display in Soderbergh’s film.

Which brings me to PARKER, a film that either has no idea what it wants to be or no ability to deliver it. It’s a movie that isn’t awful, but it’s also a movie that has no consistent or coherent vision, a movie that is completely lacking in the style it so desperately needs if it wants to be a crime film, and the energy it needs if it wants to be an action film.

Folded into this inconsistent mess, however, is a really great performance from Lopez. She plays Leslie Rogers, a woman who’s forced to start her life over as she nears 40 years of age. Her ex-husband turned out to be a better cover than book, and she’s been forced to move back in with her mom (Patti Lupone) and work low on the food chain at a high-end real estate agency. Cash is tight (the car she’s leasing and the clothes she’s wearing are above her current pay grade, and she has to help pay off her ex’s bankruptcy), and she’s grown desperate. She steals Parker (who’s pretending to be a rich Texan to scout real estate and find his enemies) from a co-worker and while she complains about the men who hit on her while she’s showing them property (and having to allow some of their advances so as not to lose them as clients) she throws herself at the rich Texan.

It’s pathetic and desperate and Lopez delivers it all beautifully. There’s a real sadness to Leslie, and I believe that she sees first the rich Texan and then the British criminal as a way out of her predicament. It makes me wonder how the last fifteen years would have been different for Lopez if her opportunities and choices had done a better job tapping into her talent instead of relying on her star power.

Of all the things wrong with PARKER, Jennifer Lopez is not among them.

It’s not a film’s fault if it’s marketed poorly, and the movie PARKER purports to be in its commercials is not the film you’ll find when you watch it. This is not a sexy crime thriller. In the commercials there’s lots of sexual allusions: about how “it’s not the size of the gun, but how you use it,” about a sexy shower scene, and about Lopez’s body.

But there’s nothing sexy about PARKER. Sure, there’s good looking leads here, but the film isn’t sexy. The line about the size of the gun? It’s not said from Parker (Statham) to Leslie, but Parker to a guy he’s just shot who claimed “mine’s bigger.” The sexy shower scene? It’s not between Parker and Leslie, but Parker and his actual girlfriend, Claire (Emma Booth), and there’s nothing sexy about it. And Lopez’s body? When Parker tells her to “take off your dress,” the camera puts Lopez’s entire body in the frame, but there isn’t anything sexy about the scene. Parker says he needs to know if she’s wearing a wire, and he really means he wants to know if she’s wearing a wire. There’s no tension, sexual or otherwise.

I’m left struggling about what this movie is supposed to be. Is this supposed to be the movie that takes Statham into the A list of action stars? Is it supposed to be the movie that shows us he’s every bit the actor as he is the puncher and kicker? Or is it supposed to be just another Statham film dressed up with a few stars to try and get bigger box office cake?

Whatever it’s trying to be, it isn’t it.

As I mentioned, I try and judge every film on its own merits, yet there’s so much about PARKER that begs you think of other, better options that it’s hard to escape.

When you do a crime movie that attempts to take a “good guy bad guy” and use him as the protagonist, you’re stepping on Elmore Leonard’s turf, and Westlake isn’t Leonard. What this film desperately needs is some Elmore Leonard characters (or, since the movie is set in Florida, some Carl Hiassen characters) to surround the driven, focused Parker. I like Jason Statham and I think he’s a good enough actor to escape the action genre, and I like the performance he gives here as the principled criminal, but if you’re going to have that kind of main character, you need to give the audience something somewhere else to balance that off – make it stylistic or surround him with personable characters. Other than Lopez’s Leslie, PARKER completely fails in this regard.

The issues with the lack of visual style in the movie has to fall to Taylor Hackford. He’s a fine director and gets fine performances from all of the actors in the film, but PARKER has all the visual style of a Lifetime Movie of the Week. The camera is largely flat and static. The action scenes have no immediacy to them, and except for one moment where Parker uses a piece of a toilet to crack his opponent in the face, the violence hits with the impact of getting punched in the face by a man with no arms. The story is slow and dull, and it begs for a film that wins you over with visual style. The few shots we see of Parker with his shirt off shows us that he’s got nasty scars all over his body, and the scenes beg out for the camera to linger. When Claire looks and them or runs her hands over them, the camera needs to linger there, too. Hackford could play with perspective, giving us the establishing shots intercut with extreme close-ups of the scars, but he doesn’t. It’s just, “Here’s a shot of Statham without his shirt in a shower and he’s got scars, what’s next?”

My least favorite part of the film is the ending. After Parker gets his revenge and he and Leslie are sitting in a car with the jewels that Michael Chiklis’ crew stole, he tells her how it’s going to go down, laying out how she’ll hide the jewels, how he’ll send someone to get them, that he’ll fence them, how the cut works, etc. Then he gets out of the car and she pulls away.

That happens, and if the movie had ended right there, it would have been the best part of the movie. It would have been a rare moment of style bringing out the best in both characters. But even though we’ve just spent the entire film learning that Parker is a man of his word, that “when I say I’m going to do something, I do it,” the film then has to show us how it all plays out. For some reason, even though you completely trust that he’s going to do what he says, the film has to show us Leslie getting a package full of money. It’s dumb and unnecessary and has the feel of either filmmakers who don’t know what they’re doing or producers who’ve demanded its inclusion because of what a dumb focus group has told them.

The end result is a film that isn’t bad but is unsatisfactory, a film that needs style but lacks it, a film that needs characters but lacks them, and a film that never equals the sum of its parts.

———-

Atomic Reactions: Marvel Comics on Film coming soon.  Image and book copyright, Mark Bousquet, 2012

My latest collection of reviews is now available for purchase. I cover every Marvel comic movie, from The Avengers to Howard the Duck, from Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk to Ed Norton’s Hulk to Eric Bana’s Hulk to Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk. All the big budget movies are reviewed, all the 1970s made-for-TV movies are reviewed, and all the straight-to-video animated titles, too. Thanks for checking it out!

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