Whether or not you’ve read Donald E. Westlake’s crime novels, there’s a good chance you’ve dug the exploits of Westlake’s laconic professional thief, Parker (albeit under tweaked monikers), in adaptations such as Lee Marvin’s “Point Blank” or Mel Gibson’s “Payback.” So, hearing that Jason Statham is tackling the role — with Jennifer Lopez as costar — stirs a fingers-crossed anticipation that we’re getting more of Cool Statham (“Crank,” “The Bank Job”) rather than Cruddy Statham (“Killer Elite”). “Ray” director Taylor Hackford’s movie even latches onto “Parker” as its title as if to say, hey, never mind those other highlights — this is going to be the definitive take on the character, B-movie grit that rates an A.
Not even close.
The familiar story opens on a divertingly unfamiliar note, with Statham done up as a gray-haired priest as part of Parker’s elaborate plan to knock off a state fair’s box office. After Parker’s crew (Michael Chiklis, etc.) double-crosses him, he doggedly tracks them to West Palm Beach, Fla., shadowing their preparations for a big jewel heist. J. Lo sports a wardrobe that makes her “Maid in Manhattan” uniform look chic as the lonely-hearted local realtor who becomes Parker’s unlikely accomplice. (Seeing her get “checked for a wire” — complete with career-low bra-and-panties twirl — makes “Out of Sight” seem like a lifetime ago.)
The best we get here are modest action diversions: a knife fight that goes over a balcony, or Statham using a bar stool to threaten somebody’s life, and noting the ignominy of death-by-barstool. Other than that, there’s little that works: Parker’s vengeance isn’t thrilling, there’s a pointlessly developed non-love triangle, even the glam settings look cheap, and the tough-guy exchanges are inexplicably flat. Industrial-training-video flat, even. If Chiklis and his gang were going for mannered, maybe they should’ve studied how Westlake’s dialogue was handled in his script for “The Grifters.” Want to talk stuff that’s criminal? Try the snippet of “The Young and the Restless” that plays in the background of one scene and starts making you think it looks almost convincing by comparison.Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.