Parker: Jason Statham Loves the ’80s

by Ethan Alter January 25, 2013 1:44 pm
<i>Parker</i>: Jason Statham Loves the ’80s

Forget the Schwarzenegger dud The Last Stand; the most authentic, ridiculous and overall entertaining '80s action movie throwback in theaters right now is Parker, the Taylor Hackford-directed, Jason Statham-starring big-screen version of the crime novel anti-hero created by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake). Although the character has been brought to the screen several times before -- including the 1967 classic Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, and the compromised 1999 Mel Gibson-led Payback -- this is the first film that has been able to legally use the Parker name. And unlike those movies, it's not an adaptation of Parker's 1962 debut The Hunter, but rather a more recent installment, 2000's Flashfire (although the plot, once again, involves the character being betrayed by his fellow crooks and then embarking on a mission of revenge). But even though it takes place in the period of iPhones and Google, Hackford is very much working in the tradition of seedy Reagan-era crime pictures like John Frankenheimer's 52 Pick-Up and William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A.. Here are five ways in which the mostly satisfying Parker clearly loves the '80s.

It's No Muss, No Fuss and No Frills
Inspired by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher and John Woo, the '90s were a time when the crime genre got all arty, lathering flashy visuals and narrative gamesmanship on top of traditional potboiler tales. And yes, some of these movies (like Se7en, Pulp Fiction and Hard Boiled) have been terrific, but they also inspired a wave of clones that have nothing to offer but empty style (Kiss the Girls, Amongst Friends etc. etc.). Hackford goes the other direction, keeping Parker in the stripped-down school of most '80s action programmers, where the style is functional rather than fancy. (The only Fincher-like flourish is his use of the 3D typography from the opening sequence of Panic Room.) The plot -- which, for the record, involves Parker following a gang of backstabbing crooks (led by Michael Chiklis) to Palm Beach, where they're planning a big diamond heist -- also unfolds in a completely straightforward fashion, with no time jumps (apart from the odd flashback) and fake-outs. The action is similarly low-key -- all hand-to-hand stuff and close-quarters gunplay, minus over-caffeinated chases and slow-motion shoot-outs. It's an approach that complements the source material, even if it offers fewer "Wow!" moments.

It's Bloody and Brutal
Not that a movie like Se7en isn't, of course, but again, the style of that one is so heightened, the bloodshed ends up feeling almost fantastical. In a movie like 52 Pick-Up and now Parker, violence is more casual and, as a result, often messier. The centerpiece of Hackford's film, for example, is a knock-down-drag-out fight between Parker and a knife-wielding assassin that involves, among other things, bone-crunching kicks to the ribs, lots of shots to the face and a blade being shoved though a hand. By the end of the bout, they're both smeared with the sticky red stuff and ready to collapse. (Parker also has a habit of shooting people in the knees; it doesn't kill them, but boy does it put them out of commission and result in a ton of blood.) The amount of punishment Statham takes (not to mention dishes out) in the course of the film brings to mind the original Die Hard, where Bruce Willis endured blow after blow, yet still kept chugging along. Parker may not be an ordinary guy thrust into an extraordinary situation a la John McClane, but he's also decidedly not a man of steel.

It's Anti-Romantic
Although they often had female co-stars, the action heroes of the '80s had no time for love, either because they were rampant misogynists or simply too busy killing people. (And sometimes both.) Parker himself is in a committed relationship with the lovely, resourceful Claire (Emma Booth), but they don't spend a lot of time together, lest she be targeted by the bad guys he's after. Instead, his primary female accomplice is Jennifer Lopez's Leslie, a struggling real estate agent desperate to improve her life and willing to take not-so-legal measures to do it. While Leslie is instantly drawn to Parker (staring at his ass with the same rapt attention that Hackford's camera ravishes on J.Lo's famous posterior), he plays it cool with her, allowing for a quick kiss, but nothing more substantial. Maybe because she's not the love interest, Lopez is more fun to watch here than she has been in some time. It's not quite an Out of Sight-level turn, but it's a damn sight better than The Back-Up Plan. We'd welcome a re-teaming of her and Statham provided, again, that they don't move their business to the bedroom.

It's ThisClose To Being Too Cheesy
The cheese factor is a big part of the appeal of those '80s action movies, from the outdated fashions to the overheated dialogue to the now-insane amount of political incorrectness. Cheesiness is a major component of Parker as well, particularly in some of the supporting performances like Bobby Cannavale's doofus cop who lusts after J.Lo or Patti LuPone channeling her inner Sofia Vergara as Leslie's loud-mouthed Hispanic mother. Statham allows himself to be goofy on occasion as well, which is why this ranks as one of his most enjoyable performances to date. He's always been great at the action stuff, but has a tendency to stiffen up the instant the fists stop flying. That stiffness still lingers here, but Hackford is wise to keep him constantly on the go. He rarely stands still in any room he enters, either pacing around or making a beeline for an outdoor terrace or balcony... the better to avoid any prying ears who might be listening in. The director also has his actors embrace -- rather than run from or comment on -- every cliché that screenwriter John J. McLaughlin has scribbled on the page. Parker is often the feature film equivalent of a comedic straight man -- aware that it'll be laughed at, but sticking to the script anyway.

It's Murky
I'm speaking both visually and morally, here. Although shot with a digital camera, Parker has that grainy, underlit look of '80s film stock, especially in the nighttime sequences. It's the opposite of the crisp, clear -- almost to the point of antiseptic -- images we've come to expect from digitally photographed thrillers (such as Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). It's not a style that every contemporary crime movie should strive to recreate, but again, it fits the material. Parker also resists the urge to sand away its title character's rough edges; while Parker does follow a certain code (innocents should usually be spared, backstabbers should be killed), but he's not exactly an honorable guy, more than happy to lie, steal and/or shoot someone if it will benefit him. And even though she's not an experienced criminal, Leslie isn't above cheating to get ahead either and, in the end, is even rewarded for her dalliance in the underworld. So yeah, in a way they're both awful people. But they're still less awful that the real villains.

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