(Dir: Taylor Hackford, 2013)
No matter your thoughts on The Expendables (I personally enjoyed both films for what they are - read my review of the second one here), one of the best decisions Sylvester Stallone made was casting Jason Statham as the second lead. Statham was wise (or lucky?) enough to transcend his role of generic hardman in painfully average British gangster films like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to become a bonafide action star, cemented by his position alongside such totemic action stars in those two films. It's well deserved. Statham's films rarely exceed cliché or by the numbers storytelling, but they're always entertaining and that's usually solely down to the man himself. Look at films like Safe, The Mechanic or The Transporter for proof of that. If it ain't clear already I have more than a soft spot for The Stath!
Parker stays true to form, sitting smack bang in the middle of by the numbers filmmaking. The story concerns thief for hire Parker (Statham), who gets screwed over on a job by Melander (Michael Chiklis) and his crew, who think they've left him dead on the side of the road. But you don't double cross and kill The Stath that easily! With the help of real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), he tracks them in Palm Beach and plans to exact revenge whilst they're carrying out a career defining heist. It's hardly an original plot but it drives a satisfying enough story forwards.
I always wonder what the lead characters actually look like on the page for a Statham film, because no matter how they're initially formed they invariably end up identical to what we've seen before on screen. Change his name, introduce a new villain and set it in a different location and the result is interchangeable. What always exists is a no nonsense hardman who will take a beating but deliver back just as hard, whilst possessing adequate guile and disarming charisma, but most importantly is driven by a strong moral compass. He may be a man who does bad things but he will live by a code that ensures people who do the right thing / don't screw him over are respected. This is the Statham character template. Arguably the key word there is charisma - he's an actor with very limited range but he's always likeable and highly watchable, not to mention funny too. You know what you're getting with The Stath and watching him take down a room of bad guys is a pleasure. As you would expect, all of the above is on display in Parker, much to its benefit.
The awkward aspect of Parker is Lopez. I don't think anyone could convincingly argue that she's a great actress, and she's ok here, but buying into her as a struggling average woman in a seemingly mundane job is a bit of a stretch. We haven't seen her on the screen so much these days but her glamorous real life persona really leaks in, forcing us to not believe this character. Likewise the name Leslie suits the character but not the actress pretending to be her. It's wrong to say this but she works better here purely as eye candy. More effective is Chiklis - after his stunning turn as Vik Mackey in the The Shield, a tv show totally worthy of your time if you like something with a bit of edge, he proved he has the presence to effectively play bad, but has hardly been seen on the big screen doing so. As such he's enjoyable to watch in this pretty standard role. The only other notable is Nick Nolte, who doesn't appear to be ageing too gracefully, looking bigger and sounding even more unintelligibly gruff (similar to how he appeared in Gangster Squad - read that review here). But at least he adds a little gravitas here.
Parker seems to have fallen victim to the same casual disinterest shown towards action movies this year, as commented on in my review of the poor A Good Day To Die Hard (read that here). Box office has been lower than Statham's average, but in the US it has at least made more than both Bullet To the Head and The Last Stand. It's not that it's any better or worse than those two films, as like them it's entertaining enough, presenting an unoffensively watchable action / heist caper. So why do people seem less interested in watching these action films? The Stath is his usual reliable self in a typical role for him, although not quite as exciting as the fun mania of the Crank films. Lopez's presence here is jarring if anything. If enjoyable mindless escapism is what you want, Parker will do you well, but don't expect anything you couldn't get in an average direct to DVD film (except The Stath of course!).