Adapting material from one medium to another is never an easy proposition. Script to screen is perhaps the most dangerous transition of all as the phrase “the book was better” is so often a common sentiment. The waters are especially murky for an established character like Donald E. Westlake‘s Parker, the star of no less than 24 novels and a dozen or so mostly unofficial film appearances. Perhaps the most well-known is Mel Gibson’s Porter from the 1999 film Payback. Using a different novel as the source material, screenwriter John McLaughlin and director Taylor Hackford are bringing the Parker character back to the big screen this weekend in the aptly, if simply, titled Parker.
Adapted from “Flashfire,” one of the more recent Parker novels, Parker sees our titular antihero (played by Jason Statham) teaming up with four other guys to rob the Ohio State Fair. Things go south after they make good their escape only to spring the news that they’re using the take as seed money on a bigger score. Parker, of course, just wants to walk away with his share like they agreed on. After a heated disagreement in a Surburban, the four send the weakest guy to shoot Parker. Thinking him dead, they move on to planning their big job in Palm Beach. Injured but not dead, Parker sets out to hunt the four men down and settle the score.
Parker starts pretty strong following Statham as he arrives at the fairgrounds on the day of the robbery. The setup is told in flashback cutaways where we meet Claire (Emma Booth), Parker’s significant other, and her father, Hurley (Nick Nolte), Parker’s connection to the state fair job. We get a good sense of Parker’s character here, a man of his word who expects others to stick by theirs. The action is decent and the scene bodes well for the rest of the film. Unfortunately it’s mostly downhill from there.
The film flounders a bit while Parker heals and looks for info on the whereabouts of his four former partners. It’s a collection of scenes that don’t add much and merely move the plot along blandly but not quickly enough. And then Jennifer Lopez shows up as the down-on-her-luck Leslie Rodgers. While she’s turned in good performances in the past, in particular in Out of Sight, she’s simply awful here. The Out of Sight comparison is likely to be on the minds of audience members who recall its similar locales and circumstances, but try as she might, Lopez just can’t make her character work this time.
It would be unfair to lay all the blame at JLo’s feet though. A hefty portion should be shared by McLaughlin and Hackford. Neither seem quite sure what type of film they’re making. We are treated to scene upon scene beating us over the head with the mundane details of Leslie’s life and financial woes. At times, it feels like we’ve abandoned the Parker story entirely to instead tell the melodramatic story of Leslie’s fight to be an independent women after a nasty divorce. To those excited at the prospect of a new Parker film, filled with brutal violence and clever dialogue, these scenes are basically cinematic poison.
One of the biggest problems is that aside from the first scene setups, we don’t get a good sense of Statham as the Parker character. He’s basically just playing Statham which is pretty much what he always does, and while it’s pretty close to Parker to begin with, it’s just not enough this time around. Certainly not the way Mel played it, over-the-top and maybe more than a little crazy. But even his motivations are muddled. Most of his actions could be chalked up to revenge, but it’s the money he’s owed that should be the driving force behind Parker’s actions. Hackford hollowly lets Statham do what he wants and makes no attempt to fully define the Parker character that we paid to see.
The film stumbles its way towards its inevitable conclusion, but by this point it has exhausted all its good will. Which it does no less than 3 times before actually rolling credits. Thankfully the opening scene is halfway decent, because it may be the only thing keeping the film from being a total loss. Lopez is terrible and we spend far too much time with her character. She could be cut out completely and the film wouldn’t lose anything. It’s also far too long at just a hair under 2 hours. This story could easily fit in a nice, tidy 90 minute package.
As it is, Parker starts strong but fizzles slowly and painfully until you’re begging for it to end.
The Upside: The opening sequence is well done and gets you excited, Statham basically plays Statham which is already close to the Parker character so there’s that
The Downside: Jennifer Lopez is certainly the cause of many problems for the film, but things like it’s length, lack of humor and failure to get the character just right all help sink the ship
On the Side: The Parker character has been portrayed on film several times, including once by an actress in Made in the USA, the Jean-Luc Godard film in which Anna Karina plays the Parker role.