"Parker," a movie you'll forget having seen even as you're watching it, has about three more weeks in the theaters. Then it'll be shuffled off onto video and onto cable television, where it rightly belongs, because this Jason Statham-led heist flick plays as nothing more substantial than an episode of some CBS crime drama. (Perhaps unfairly, the presence of villain Michael Chiklis, from "The Shield" and "The Commish," only compounds this sensation.) An hour would've been plenty long for the hammy acting, the paint-by-numbers cinematography, the tin-eared dialogue and the underwhelming final big score to unfold. Instead, at two hours, "Parker" has time to remind you repeatedly why it'll make a decent rainy Sunday movie to fall asleep to circa 2014.
"Parker" starts with a Big Job that feels smallish: sticking up the cash room at the Ohio State Fair, cracking the safe and hitting the road. Through some soupy flashbacks we learn that Parker's accomplices on this deal are just some dudes that his partner, the imposing slab Nick Nolte, knows only sorta. Well, they turn out to be a touch rotten. They offer him a chance at another big score that requires his share of the state fair spoils to fund. He declines, so they try to shoot him to death, as stupidity would have it, in a moving SUV. He fights back and escapes, if you can count getting shot and dumped in a canal to be discovered by passing tomato farmers as escaping.
Parker recuperates and tracks the gang to Palm Beach. There he assumes the guise of a Texas oil tycoon in order to get flat-broke realtor Jennifer Lopez to drive him around and show him homes where a bunch of thugs might hole up to stage a jewel heist. The Mob sends an assassin after him, which is less interesting than it sounds because we never learn a single cool fact about the killer other than that he doesn't bounce when thrown off a high-rise. Realtor Lopez wants a cut of the job and then does the sort of silly damsel-in-distress stuff that should get her fired from a multimillion-dollar robbery.
Perhaps in another movie, the character Parker, who graced two dozen Donald W. Westlake novels, could pull this jalopy. He ought to be compelling enough — a thief who sticks to his word, doesn't hurt innocents, steals cars as if they're in a take-a-penny tray, fights like a cornered wolverine — but the script (by John J. McLaughlin, who also wrote "Black Swan") swerves between pulpy noir and lazy camp. "Parker" is one of those movies in which you can pretty nearly guess each character's next line of dialogue. Consider it training wheels on the way to watching Elmore Leonard adaptations and Guy Ritchie projects.
Director Taylor Hackford told a reporter in Palm Beach that he was drawn to the Parker character because of the thief's pragmatism: "He's a sociopath. He's a criminal. But he's not a psychopath." If only Hackford could've brought that Parker from the page to the screen with anything approaching aplomb, we might've had something.