“Parker”

Paleo Retiree writes:

Parker12

Jason Statham and J-Lo directed by Taylor Hackford, in an adaptation of one of Donald Westlake’s “Parker” novels. For me the film straddled the line between “an OK watch” and “an unfortunate misfire.” It’s full of lively action and color — fun high-life/lowlife settings in New Orleans and Palm Beach, and loads of terrific actors in minor roles. But it isn’t very satisfying. With his battering-ram head, his physical prowess and his growling taciturnity, Statham must have seemed like a plausible choice for Parker, but he doesn’t work out very well; portraying an unstoppable, sociopathic, all-dick archetype (embodied in earlier movies by Lee Marvin, Jim Brown and Mel Gibson), Statham winds up looking like a boy playing at being a man. Masculinity today, eh? With J-Lo, it seems that you’re either amused by her childishly bad, cartoonish overacting or you aren’t — in this case, what the heck, I was tickled by it. Hackford can deliver a terrific movie when his trademark juicy-flamboyant realism is appropriate — I loved “Ray,” his recent biopic about Ray Charles. But here his approach seems all wrong, as though he was determined to deliver conventional payoffs of a kind the material isn’t much good for but was clueless about the quirkier potential the material is teeming with. FWIW, I’m one of those people who considers Westlake’s Parker novels to be genius. They feature an absurdist bluntness and matter-of-factness that’s like a fusion of Don Siegel and Robert Bresson; they’re reductionist and brutal to a comic/horrifying extreme; yet they’re also droll, devil-may-care, make-it-up-as-you-go-along shaggy-dog crime yarns.

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About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog 2Blowhards.com. Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
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16 Responses to “Parker”

  1. Fenster says:

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s not only Statham’s acting that fails to please, it is also the script.

    Now, maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much that this Parker has a hidden aw-shucks heart o’ gold if I didn’t know Parker from the books and from prior film characterizations in which he is pretty sociopathic. But I do know that lineage and, gee, that’s the Parker I like.

    In Boorman’s Point Blank, crime boss Carroll O’Connor cannot quite believe Parker (Marvin) is raising holy hell just to get back the $93K he and a friend stole, and that the “corporation” ended up with after he was double crossed and left for dead by his associate in the theft. To O’Connor it is chump change that almost accidentally ended up in the corporation’s coffers. But here comes Marvin, coolly and methodically cutting a swath through the bad guys looking for “his” money. Marvin seems not to care about the trouble he is making, or that as long as he is making that much trouble he could demand a lot more. But he is almost stupidly singleminded: “I just want my money back”. *That* Parker would not share his $93K with J-Lo, or with some tomato farmers neither.

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  2. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    I was frustrated by it. Mostly at the screenplay level. I couldn’t figure out why anyone was doing what he was doing. I liked J-Lo, but her character is uncomfortably wedged into the plot. A small character who was beefed up when J-Lo took the part?

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    • Yeah, I read the novel a few years ago and don’t remember a significant female character.

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      • Leslie occupies two-thirds of the novel and does get one-third of the cut because she takes the jewels home for safe-keeping. It’s not altruism, it’s part of the deal. It’s hard to convince film companies to leave Parker alone. As Don said, he’s not user-friendly. The best adaptations right now are the Darwyn Cooke graphic novels. Worth a look.

        Paul Westlake
        Caretaker, DonaldWestlake.com

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      • Whoops, my mistake. My memory ain’t what it used to be. Thanks for the correction and the recommendation. I’ll check out the comics.

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  3. It’s very bizarre that they make the efforts they do to humanize Parker. Why on earth would anyone try to humanize Parker? It’d be like wanting to humanize the Terminator.

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      That’s partly true, although, to be fair, Parker gets more “humanized” as the books go on. His relationship with Claire becomes a much bigger deal, for example, and in the final Parker novel — Dirty Money — he even starts to seem like a nice guy.

      I thought this Parker movie did a better job than most of staying true to the original novel — which is partly why I like it overall, despite agreeing about some of its basic problems — but that novel, Firebreak, isn’t one of the “typical” Parker novels, like The Score or Backflash. On the one hand, Firebreak echoes The Hunter in it’s structure — Parker is ripped off after a job and then he goes after the guys who ripped him off — but I also think it’s him doing an Elmore Leonard-version of a Parker novel.

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      • Yeah, the movie definitely has its late Elmore side. I just wish Hackford had taken a more offbeat droll-brutal approach to putting the movie over. That’s interesting about how the Parker of the novels progresses. I’ve never read Westlake in any kind of order — maybe I should start.

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  4. I didn’t mind the Mel Gibson Parker movie “Payback.” It wasn’t inspired, but the low-key bluntness wasn’t badly done, the supporting cast was fab, it was hyper-cynical in a wonderfully adult way, and Gibson could have been a lot worse. It was a lot more “Parker” than this thing was.

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      Yeah. “Payback” has its charms.

      I went into this one expecting it to be un-Parkerish. So I accepted that part of it. But I turned it off after about an hour when I couldn’t even figure out the motivations of the characters. Seemed like the screenplay went through several rewrites, and one one bothered to make the various contributions mesh. It ends up feeling like a parody (when you cast Statham, that’s inevitable — he’s a comic actor), but it’s neither funny nor sharp.

      Actually, what it feels like is an uncomfortable marriage of Westlake and Elmore Leonard. At some level “Parker” really wants to be “Get Shorty.”

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      • Fenster says:

        Paul W. Thanks for the tip about Cooke, and for your comments.

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      • Sax von Stroheim says:

        But Firebreak, the novel on which Parker is based, is like Westlake’s version of an Elmore Leonard novel, with characters that seems to be homages to Jackie Burke and Raylan Givens. If the movie is trying to be like Get Shorty, it’s partly because the novel was already trying to be like Pronto.

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      • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

        I’m sure you’re right. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on. Isn’t it “Flashfire”?

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  5. Sax von Stroheim says:

    Ah, yeah – Flashfire. Firebreak is the next one…

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  6. David Feeney says:

    The problem with making any movie with a ‘bad’ guy as the hero is that the movie has to make three times it’s production cost to break even. Parker cost 35$ Million to make so it would have to clear 100$ to see a profit. The fear from the studio point of view is that not enough people will pay 10$ to see a real ‘bad’ guy, so they have to soften him, give him a side kick, heart of gold etc.

    If you really want to make a Parker movie or any movie with a bad guy as the protagonist you have to go low budget, i.e. Reservoir Dogs, 1.4$ million budget. 4$ million box office.

    Here’s my proposal; get a Parker novel that could be done on the cheap. Let Quentin Tarantino direct and have Michael Madsen star as Parker and you’ll have a hit.

    Just my two cents.

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  7. Pingback: My Year in Books: 2014 | Uncouth Reflections

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