Director: Taylor Hackford
By now, I assume y'all know I'm a bit of a completionist, and I'm slowly buying the BluRays of all the movies based upon the Parker novels by Richard Stark. Most famous of these movies include Point Blank with Lee Marvin and Payback starring Mel Gibson (which I don't own because Gibson, but probably will buy used to take him out of the money chain).
If you're newer to the blog, when I traveled a lot for work, I read all 24 Parker novels and the Grofeld offshoots. The movies never match the books - writer Richard Stark (real name: Donald Westlake) was not willing to let them use the name "Parker" as he was aware that the movies would differ too much from the books, and movie people tend to miss the point of Parker. Which is 100% true. So the movies are all oddball mutations of Parker as a character and the plots of the novels - which, if done straight, would be fascinating stuff and probably spur a 1000 think pieces about following a character who is in no way a hero. He is not a badguy, but he is a bad guy.
The BluRay of Parker is now finding its way into the discount priced BluRay world, and so I picked it up, and because J-Lo is in the movie and that's a decided bonus, I decided to put it on for some Friday evening casual violence watching.
|just a capital idea, I say|
I wrote about this one years ago before I saw it, and it looks like when I did watch it, it was during a hiatus in blogging.
The film is generally okay at what it sets out to do, but is hamstrung a bit by what Jamie described (who hung around for the first hour of the movie before turning in) as "feels like the 14th one in a series, but it's the first one". And I think that's true.
Parker, as a character, gets his real set up in the first novel, and then after that, it's gradual changes and character moments. Even the discovery of and pairing with Claire has already occurred by this film. And, frankly, Jennifer Lopez would have made an interesting/ excellent option for Claire - but more on what Lopez does do in a bit.
Instead, we get an adaptation of Flashfire, which, honestly, is one of the not-greatest of the Parker series. It's fine! I enjoyed it. But it isn't as memorable as anything in the first 8 novels or so, and occurred after author Stark had returned to Parker after about two decades away and hadn't quite gotten his Parker legs under him again and feels a bit goofy in parts, like Westlake/ Stark's Dortmunder novels had bled into what he was up to (he would be back up to speed for the last three novels in the cycle).
The movie is very movie-ish and needs for a character who kills without batting an eye, who steals whatever is worth anything, who will do you damage if you cause his problems while he's working, and who - frankly - in the early novels has a troubling relationship with women (not the worst I've seen from novels of the era). But here he has to have a code - he doesn't steal from anyone who can't afford it, and doesn't hurt people who don't deserve it.
I mean, that's one way to look at it. The more accurate way to look at it over 24 books is that Parker doesn't steal unless it's a big enough haul to make it worth it, and he doesn't hurt people because that's what draws the attention of the cops. He's not above all kinds of reprehensible behavior, which makes for interesting reading but might shock the casual film goer who want their thieves to be people they would have beers with. And I think the movie leans into that version of Parker. He's just a decent fellow who *can* get ultraviolent, but he's actually a nice guy.
As that, Statham is mostly a pretty good choice except where he's not. He certainly fits the bill physically, he's believable as someone throwing people off tall buildings, and he kind of blends in to a crowd - which Parker in the books kinda sorta can do. But he's (a) very British and working in America and (b) cannot do a Texas accent for shit, and it's hilarious when he's trying to pose as a guy from San Antonio. Like, I don't know what that accent is, but it's not anything from this continent. Mostly I think Statham is a serviceable actor but a lot of fun to watch on screen.
I don't remember a ton about the character J-Lo plays from the book, but here she's given a role that's like an inverted version of her romantic comedy parts, so I see the appeal. She kinda wants a guy, but really just wants the nightmare of her life to get better. She's going bankrupt despite the amount of work she's doing as a realtor, she's helping pay off her ex's debts, and she's living with her nagging mom (Patti LuPone!). Rather than meeting Owen Wilson, she meets Parker and decides - actually, this may be a way out.
I'm one of those people who thinks J-Lo in the right material is really solid, and this is that. But she also doesn't appear until 1/3rd of the way into the movie, and then is in maybe half the movie after that. It's not a waste, and points out that Parker stories are structured a bit different from a lot of action stuff, because the interesting stuff in a Parker story is that they *don't* gloss over the details. We don't see Parker just walk out of a hospital room and then appear in the next scene, we see how he gets money, clothes, etc... that's part of how the books work and I'm glad it's in the movie instead of written out as irrelevant.
If anything, the film gives the B-cast's heist short shrift, because that matters less.
The B-cast is a crew of thieves Parker was teamed up with who pulled his first job so they could sponsor their next job. With Michael Chiklis as a ring-leader, we also have Wendell Pierce, Michah Hauptman and other faces you know. Bobby Canavale plays a local cop with a thing for JLo, and Nick Nolte is Parker's father-in-law/ his fixer.
I don't know if I loved the changes to Parker here. They literally have Parker going to backyard BBQ's, hanging with his father-in-law and Claire is cast as, and portrayed as a sort of 30ish, cipher-ish "daughter of a thief" who is always there for her man. She's the boiler plate cute girlfriend in the movie, and it's not the actor's (Emma Booth) fault. But the sexy 40-ish, world-weary Claire of the novels is simply more interesting. She's got some larceny in her heart, but she's also curiously morally ambivalent, beyond caring anymore what a guy does outside his own door so long as he comes home from time to time. She's got her own breed of Parker's low-key sociopathy. It's just not a big enough role in this story for J-Lo to have taken the part, but I think over the course of a series it would have fit her like a glove.
The movie has some glimpses of nudity and harsh language, but the Hard-R rating is for violence, which didn't strike me as all that much the first go-round, because compared to the books, it's a lot of fast action on screen (of course). But I did realize this time around how much it does reflect the violence of the novels in its casual cruelty and attitude to death for the characters, but maybe not for how the audience takes it in. It's not John Wick videogame violence (which I liked in Nobody better than the 2 John Wick films I've seen). It's sloppy, up close violence with a bit of chaos involved. No one will say "ballet of violence" about this movie, and the characters are wounded. Badly.
I think Point Blank is a very different take on Parker, but it's still the intro I'd suggest. I think Marvin and Boorman's approach makes sense for film, and makes for a great flick, but it's still not Parker.
In short order we'll have a movie to Amazon Prime of Parker starring Robert Downey Jr., which is a weird, weird bit of casting. Look, Parker is 6'3" and gristle. RDJ is like 5'7" and Vegan trim. And he talks. A lot. It's some odd casting, but, look, RDJ is a very, very good actor. I can see it being interesting if nothing else.