From the Block
Parker (Jason Statham) first appears in Parker as a priest. Walking across the dusty grounds of the Ohio State Fair, his gait is deliberate his hair is gray. That he has discernable hair might be even more distracting in this first two minutes than the clerical collar revealed by a circling camera.
This is one of two surprises in Parker, which immediately sets to itemizing the brutal mechanics of the Jason Statham formula. He’s not a priest, of course, but an admirable sort of crook. In this case, he’s a thief who, he tells the frightened clerks at the Fair’s office, doesn’t intend to hurt anyone and only takes money from those who can afford it. He goes so far as to save a young security guard (Billy Slaughter) who suffers a panic attack, assuring him that he’ll soon enough be watching the robbery on the 10 o’clock news, wrapped in his loving girlfriend’s arms.
Parker’s fellow thieves are not so attentive. Indeed, as in most Jason Statham movies, they’re gun-brandishing, thoughtless thugs whose primary function is to make him look both cooler and warmer. And yes, during their escape from their not-so-perfectly executed crime, they reveal themselves to be greedy and dishonest as well, as the head thug, Melander (Michael Chiklis), decides to execute Parker when he won’t go along with the next, apparently ill-considered step he has in mind. More precisely, he decides to have his idiot minion Hardwicke (Michah Hauptman) do the deed, because, well, because that’s what head thugs do.
This leads to an elaborate vengeance scheme, premised on Parker’s devotion to principle. That devotion includes not killing innocent bystanders and killing every last one of the thugs who’ve wronged him. It also includes a couple of hard-boiled conversations with his mentor Hurley (Nick Nolte), a couple of soft-focusy sexy scenes with his girlfriend/Hurley’s daughter Claire (Emma Booth), and the film’s second surprise, Parker’s partnership with a Palm Beach real estate agent, Leslie (Jenifer Lopez).
It takes about 40 minutes for Leslie to show up in the movie, which spends some time establishing what you already know, that Parker is excellent at what he does, able to fight off multiple killers at once, resuscitate himself when necessary, and also keep tabs on Claire, whom he knows will be targeted by the thugs (identified here as mafia guys from Chicago, where mafia guys are apparently not prone to follow the rules of being mafia guys). Leslie is cast somewhere between comic sidekick and romantic interest, caper partner and damsel in trouble, an offbeat combination of generic roles that suits Lopez well, actually. It’s not every movie that puts J-Lo’s unusual mix of talents to use: here she shows off a veritable gamut of looks, pouting and flirting and puttering, as Leslie shows her posterior and also thinks ahead.
This isn’t to say Parker has solved the Jennifer Lopez conundrum (or even that Out of Sight, though they’re working he same ideas). She remains a performer who never looks quite at home anywhere, whether returning to The Block or playing Good Wife or Contest Judge. But Lopez is a good match with Statham: both seem intractably who you think they are, both display limits as performers but also do what they do exceptionally well. Here they deliver to expectations, and in so doing, might make you ponder—as the movie’s predictability inspires your thoughts to wander—how it is that such celebrity stylings are established and repeated.
Sometimes, of course, the similarity between roles has to do with money (a type, genre or convention is easy to sell) and sometimes with limits (an actor may have them), but they also have to do with assumptions about viewers, what they “want.” This may not mean that you, for instance, want to see Jason Statham growl and grimace yet again, or that you’re anticipating Jennifer Lopez’s pout or the shot that lingers on her derriere, but it does mean that films make choices, whether to confirm your expectations or challenge them.
Parker manages expectations, with a familiar slickness: the action is efficiently cut, the punches and kicks are loud, the wounds are bloody. The movie sets Parker’s manly-manness against Leslie’s girlish gumption in order to underscore and reiterate each, and also to explore their possibilities, at least to an extent. Per their gender codings, Parker’s masculinity is a function of his physical genius and his expressive impediments, while Leslie’s very emotional intuition allows her to serve as both a wrench in the men’s action as well as its righteous end. Principle, foreseeable and abstract and painfully material, becomes the film’s purpose as much as it is Parker’s.