Bunk Moreland once famously said on The Wire: “A man must have a code.”
It seems fitting then that Wendell Pierce, who played Bunk, stars in Parker as one of the chief protagonists since the film’s star, Jason Statham, has made a career playing criminals with unique codes of honor. From The Transporter to Crank to The Mechanic, Statham has a history of playing hitmen and other unsavory characters who follow their own moral codes that put them at odds with the criminals around them.
Of course, that moral code is a tool to set Statham’s characters up as charming, well dressed antiheroes who go around kicking people in the face while the audience cheers. It’s a simple formula, but it’s one that works really well. Statham is a man who has found a niche that works for him and has settled comfortably into it. And in a world where other action heroes like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel spend half their career making family friendly Disney movies, it’s nice to have an actor who only is content to just be an action star.
This film continues the “criminal with a unique moral code” tradition with Statham playing Parker, a thief who is burned by his crew after they try to convince him at the last minute to dump his share of the loot into the next job. They shoot him twice and leave him on the side of the road for dead. But, as action movie conventions would have it, he doesn’t die. From there, he devotes his time and energy to getting revenge and retrieving the money owed to him.
To help his cause, Statham ends up recruiting the services of Florida real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez) to help him track down the safe house of the four men who burned him. At first, he poses as a rich Texas oil baron looking to buy a house of his own, but even with Parker donning a cowboy hat, Rodgers quickly sees through his ruse (most likely because Statham has one of the least-convincing Texas accents I’ve ever heard). Still living at home with her mom and unable to score a commission at work, Rodgers still agrees to help him for a share of the cash.
Lopez feels like an odd choice for Statham’s companion in this film. She doesn’t quite seem to fit comfortably into his world, which may have been the point in the casting, but at times feels distracting. Interestingly, Parker decides not to add a romantic angle to Parker and Rodgers’ relationship. Parker already has a girlfriend who he loves. He sees Leslie as nothing more than a resource (though he does make her strip down to her bra and panties in their first encounter to make sure she isn’t wearing a wire). It was actually refreshing to see a film where a guy and a girl had a platonic business relationship without feeling the need to shoehorn a romantic plotline in.
The villains Parker squares off against are a bit of a mixed bag. The most intriguing by far is Michael Chiklis’ Melander. Chiklis seems to relish the role, dialing in just the right amount of campiness and broad villainy without feeling too over the top. Pierce is also enjoyable, though he isn’t given much to do. The other two bad guys in the crew are fairly forgettable though.
Parker is by no means a great film. It isn’t a terribly ambitious one either. However, it was just quirky and original enough to feel worthwhile. And it has a throwback vibe to it that makes it feel more like a charmingly imperfect 80s action flick than the slick, overproduced action films of today. There is gratuitous nudity, practical special effects over CGI (including a knife shoved through Parker’s hand) and an utterly ridiculous climactic heist.
Parker knows exactly what it wants to be. It’s not a life changing action film, but fans of Statham will definitely enjoy it, as will anyone else looking for a fun action flick in a sea of mediocre January releases. Like its title character, this is a film that follows a specific code. I’m sure Bunk Moreland would enjoy it.
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