Author Donald E. Westlake's "Parker" character is no stranger to the silver screen. The noir anti-hero has appeared in several movie adaptations -- most notably John Boorman's classic 'Point Blank' starring Lee Marvin, and Brian Helgeland's 'Payback' starring Mel Gibson -- but has always been forced to appear under various Hollywood aliases like Walker, Porter, McClain, Macklin, or Stone. With Taylor Hackford's recent cinematic take on the deadly thief, the character finally gets to keep his original name. Sadly, however, that's just about the only original aspect of 'Parker.' A generic crime thriller with stilted plotting, the movie lacks personality and excitement, and mostly wastes a potentially interesting coupling between stars Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. In other words, I miss Lee Marvin.
Based on the novel "Flashfire," the story follows Parker (Jason Statham), a dangerous criminal with a conscience. When a heist goes wrong, his team betrays him and tries to have him killed. Though left for dead, Parker survives the attack and soon devises a plan to get back at his enemies. Hoping to steal their latest loot, he tracks the thieves down to Palm Beach where he forms an unlikely partnership with a local real estate agent (Jennifer Lopez). Up against a skilled team of killers, the pair will have to outsmart and outgun their adversaries if they want to survive.
Simple but surprisingly convoluted at the same time, the revenge plotline leaves a lot to be desired, and some of the characters' choices and behavior makes very little sense. Likewise, despite some decent heist thrills and gritty fight scenes, the first half of the movie is actually rather dull. Sure, director Taylor Hackford does a solid job of creating a reasonable sense of tension, placing all the proper pieces in place, but the execution couldn't be more generic, and outside of some lively stunt sequences, the style is a bit flimsy and flat. This is especially true of some clunky flashbacks that show up early on. These sequences feel forced and their tacky visual aesthetic gives the movie a faintly DTV quality. The unengaging villains also don't help matters much, and despite a potentially intriguing set of performers (including Michael Chiklis), the bad guys are all just totally clichéd, wholly one-dimensional punching bags for Statham's fists.
Those fists do get a fair amount of action (including a particularly brutal hotel knife fight), but the whole "criminal with morals" archetype isn't exactly a novel concept, and the character of Parker sadly does little to differentiate himself from the pack, robbing the film of a truly engaging protagonist. Instead, Jason Statham basically just plays Jason Statham, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, there's only so much investment an actor can draw from stoic grimacing, violent brooding, and a few half-hearted one-liners. On the other hand, at one point the role does call for Statham to wear a Stetson and put on a fake Texas accent… and that's got to count for something, right?
While I was sort of dreading her presence here, it turns out that Jennifer Lopez is actually one of the movie's stronger points. Yes, her character can be a little annoying (this is J. Lo we're talking about, after all) but she lends the part a sympathetic layer that makes her relatable. Though Leslie doesn't get introduced until the film's midpoint, she brings a much needed jolt to the proceedings, mixing up the otherwise stale storyline. On the downside, her chemistry with Statham isn't given much room to develop -- at least, not from a romantic angle. In an odd scripting decision (though one that is apparently faithful to the source material), Parker's character actually already has a different love interest named Claire (Emma Booth), rendering his coupling with Lopez's character dead in the water. While I applaud the filmmakers for staying true to the books and breaking typical conventions, in this case the movie would have been better off otherwise. As it stands, Parker's unfulfilled relationship with Leslie feels like a missed opportunity, and his connection with Claire is sorely underdeveloped.
After gracing screens under several different pseudonyms, Parker finally gets to be Parker, but as presented here, he might as well just be called "Nameless Crime Fiction Anti-Hero." With no distinguishing characteristics, the filmmakers' take on the character is about as basic as they come, and while Statham is a solid action lead, he doesn't exactly demonstrate much range. That is, unless you consider wearing a cowboy hat range. Director Taylor Hackford puts together some decent stunt scenes and shootouts, but the plot is thin and stilted, and the film's style is mostly limp. The movie definitely has some mild entertainment value when it comes to action, but it turns out that I'd take Walker over Parker any day.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings 'Parker' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. An insert with instructions for an UltraViolet digital copy is included in the package. Some skippable trailers play upon start up before transitioning to a standard menu. The release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally in high definition, the picture offers pleasing detail with no major issues.
With the exception of some light and unobtrusive noise, the source is pristine and free from any troublesome artifacts. Some shots have a faintly cheap, digital look, but clarity is mostly strong with a relatively sharp image that features impressive textures and fine details, revealing every speck of stubble on Statham's face. Saturation is a little restrained, but the varied palette offers solid primaries and decent pop (especially in the opening fair scene). White levels frequently look overexposed, but the style works well enough with the material, and though a hair crushed, blacks are deep and consistent.
The fairly bland style doesn't make for demo material, but this transfer is crisp and clean, offering a strong image that doesn't suffer from any notable technical problems.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles. Lively and immersive, this is a well produced mix through and through.
Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, and there are no technical hiccups or balance issues. The soundstage is wide and spacious creating a convincing sense of texture and atmosphere for each environment. The opening carnival sequence is especially engaging with lots of crowd activity hitting the rears. Directionality is convincing with natural imaging between speakers and the action sequences are appropriately bombastic with dramatic music cues and rowdy design work. Gunshots, raging fires, explosions, and punches all carry a hard hitting low frequency thud, and dynamics are crisp and distortion free.
With no real issues to speak of, 'Parker' comes to Blu-ray with a very effective audio mix. The sound design work isn't as layered or intricate as other truly top-tier tracks, but there really isn't anything to complain about here.
'Parker' is a mediocre crime thriller that lacks originality and excitement. There is some solid action and the leads are decent, but the execution is wholly generic and occasionally flat. On the upside, this disc from Sony is technically impressive, with strong video and audio presentations. Unfortunately, the supplements are all pretty superficial. This is far from a great flick, but Statham's trademark ass-kicking is worth some entertainment value. Rent it.