Opening Weekend for “Parker”

January 28, 2013 in Books, Screens by pewestlake

PARKER OneSheetOpening weekend has come and gone and the results are in. “Parker” came in 5th overall at the box office with a $7 million take over three days in more than 2,000 theaters nationwide. One of my pet peeves with the stenographic nature of American journalism is the fixation on opening weekend box office results. The only people who really care are the ones involved in making or financing the film (and I’m not in either of those categories on this picture). Nobody else has a dog in that race and it’s stupid to spend every Monday morning cooing about the weekend winners. None the less, it has become the measure of “value” in the world of entertainment, and in that context, “Parker” did OK.

It was a slow weekend at the movies, according to most, with “Hansel and Gretel” taking the top spot overall with a $19 million take. “Movie 43″ was the only other new release and it came in 7th overall with $5 million. So “Parker” came in second among new releases and is scoring better among audience members than critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes, critics have given positive marks only 37% of the time, while audience members give positive marks 66% of the time. Nothing surprising here, as so many critics are never more impressed by anything but their own pithy commentary.

jason-statham-parker1Still, there is something to be absorbed here and the first point I take away is that many critics are approaching the film as merely a Jason Statham vehicle and scoring it in that context. Possibly the fairest of those critiques (with an understanding that I haven’t read every review out there) came from NPR’s Stephanie Zacharek, who genuinely analyzed the marriage of Don’s creation and Statham’s screen presence [emphasis hers]:

“As Westlake himself explained, Parker is angry: ‘Not hot angry — cold angry.’ Statham, with those inquisitive, cautious eyes and that slow-burning purr of a voice, can act cold, but he can never be cold. Even at his coolest, he’s all heat.”

Even though her review goes on to be quite positive, this insight tells me that the essential “Parkerness” has yet to be fully absorbed and exposed, whether by the script, the directing, the expectations of Statham or some combination or other force. It’s not exactly definable but it is fixable. This may be, however, one of the main reasons that Don almost never chose to write screenplays based on his own novels. He generally thought it was better for a fresh pair of eyes to translate the prose to screenplay. No judgements here, because the script is fine and is probably just as gerrymandered by outside forces as a Pennsylvania congressional district right about now.

Jennifer_Lopez_in_Parker_Trailer_1A lot of the reviews tended to focus on Jennifer Lopez. Some critics appear to be disappointed that they didn’t get to see J-Lo’s bosom. But even without those blinkers on, this is what I see as typical of the sillier reviews:

“As a ditsy real-estate agent named Leslie, Lopez seems to be in a whole different movie, a working-girl comedy full of high heels and morning lattes. As a result, “Parker” winds up with the worst of both worlds: It’s pointlessly violent and nauseatingly cute.”

Pointlessly violent? Seriously? That’s a criticism? Of course it’s pointlessly violent. It’s a Hollywood action-crime flick. What did you expect? If that’s your threshold, maybe Hollywood movies aren’t for you after all. And if J-Lo’s portrayal of Leslie is “nauseatingly cute,” I have no idea what adjectives could possibly be used to describe “Legally Blonde,” just as a for instance. Lucky for that reviewer, the Leslie character is a one-off in the novels and is unlikely to reappear in future Parker films, so she won’t have to expand her vocabulary any time soon.

There have been some great reviews, as well. As if to counter the short shrift given to Lopez in the Newsday review, Daniel Eagen, over at FilmJournal International, had this to say:

“Given an actual character and not a role designed for a diva, Lopez does her best work in years. Life has stripped Leslie of her illusions, and Lopez isn’t afraid to play her desperate and even a little tawdry. Anchored by a thoroughly convincing Michael Chiklis as a ruthless ringleader, the supporting cast is aces.”

parker-statham_booth

Statham with Emma Booth

I couldn’t agree more. Lopez has real acting chops that are obvious when you stop expecting the eye-candy to wiggle its behind on demand. If the hot body was all you were looking for, of course you’d be disappointed. And perhaps here Lopez is a victim of her own success — some critics just won’t be able to wrap their heads around someone with J-Lo’s looks and celebrity status playing a character that minimizes those traits. But the film is called “Parker,” not “Leslie.” She’s not supposed to consume the screen in this role. That’s Statham’s job. And he did it quite well according to most honest accounts. And the supporting cast is very good. Even Emma Booth’s “Clair” grew on me in the second viewing. She’s still young but she has depth and great potential.

Possibly the most level-headed review I’ve seen, from Laremy Legel at Film.com, includes this summation:

“In the end, we’re left with a matter-of-fact protagonist who is as direct as he is effective. Sometimes in life, simple pleasures can be rewarding, and that’s certainly the case here. ‘Parker’ is not a particularly innovative film, but it’s no less effective for the blemish.”

That’s fairly accurate. “Parker,” the movie, doesn’t break new cinematic ground or feature actors trying to channel great figures from history. As movie-making goes, it’s high craftsmanship of a familiar genre. And in that context, it is a great success. Place this movie against other versions of the Parker novels brought to the screen and it holds up quite well, certainly closer to “Point Blank” and “The Outfit” than to “Made in U.S.A.” and “Payback” on the spectrum of good to bad. Throw in the butchery done to poor Dortmunder in “Jimmy the Kid” and “Why Me?” and you can see why I, and the rest of the family, are quite pleased with this outcome.

Ancram, New York - Winter, 2001Credit: David Jennings for The New York Times

Westlake at work… well almost.

And this is where I have to mention that I know Don would have had his criticisms. Don was a perfectionist and wasn’t shy about it. There are any number of things he would probably take issue with. But the blessing and the curse of genius is that we’ll never know what those criticisms would be because nobody thinks they way he did. Nobody. The most die-hard of Parker devotees, most dedicated of Westlake fans, cannot possibly know how Don would have perceived this film or what, specifically, he would have liked or hated. I knew him for 38 years, grew up around the guy, and his widow, Abby, spent countless hours reading his manuscripts and offering suggestions, and between the two of us, we could only vaguely guess at what he might think — and we would probably be wrong. The one thing I think I do know is that Don would have been thrilled that Parker was being perceived as a real series and not just another one-off. And that means that the filmmakers have time to tell Parker’s story slowly. Don’t let this be the definitive takeaway. There will be more.

So, chin up, Parker lovers. This was a good weekend for our guy. It’s a good film with a good cast and a devoted production team that will be back again. Les Alexander knows what he has in Parker and isn’t about to let it get screwed up. Stick around. This is going to be fun!