Perfunctory Jason Statham, Perfunctory Thai Food

Film District
An Englishman posing as a Texan posing in Miami.
The Dinner: Chicken Phad Thai, at Tup Tim Thai (118 W. Mercer St.).

The Movie: Parker, at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

The Screenplate: English actor Jason Statham wants to be an action star in America. Jason Statham probably deserves to be an action star in America, but it will never happen. Statham, a bullet-headed former champion diver with a shrewd understanding of his acting limits, has become a big deal in Europe thanks to the Transporter movies and other continental collisions of style and muscle. The codes of class are firmly embedded in Statham vehicles like The Italian Job or Revolver. He's not posh, like James Bond, and he never will be. But the typical Statham action hero has aspirations. Put him in a suit an expensive car, and he just might get the girl (after beating or killing several bad guys, of course). Problem is, since trying to crack Hollywood with remakes like The Mechanic or transatlantic buddy pictures like The Expendables, Statham has been losing his Euro cred. American action stars don't aspire to be sophisticated; and they generally behave like overgrown teenagers (that's the market, after all). In Parker, based on a 51-year-old crime novel series by Donald E. Westlake (using the pen name Richard Stark), Statham again submits himself to an American template that doesn't fit...

Our problems begin in Ohio. Jason Statham does not belong in Ohio. The Midlands, maybe, but not the Buckeye State. Per Westlake's 2000 novel Flashfire, Parker is there to rob the Ohio State fair, which involves Statham costumed as a priest and his treacherous gang attired as clowns. (All you need to know about the rest of the movie's plot is contained right there: Statham versus clowns.) Westlake wrote two dozen Parker novels between 1962 and 2008 (the year he died), in addition to dozens of other crime books and screenplays during his long career. (Point Blank, The Stepfather, and Payback are among his box office hits.) Among crime genre writers, Westlake is a plot guy, not a color and dialogue guy like Elmore Leonard. The Parker novels don't feature long speeches, which favors Statham; they're basically criminal procedurals--how Parker gets in and out of trouble. Here that simply means a heist gone bad, betrayal, a narrow escape from death, and the steady, relentless machinery of revenge. Parker is not a movie to test its star or director (veteran Hollywood Brit Taylor Hackford), and their work is never less than proficient, never more than perfunctory.

January and February are the industry's traditional dumping ground for "difficult" or just plain bad movies. Parker is neither. The heists are tense, Statham is suitably impassive and stoic, and Jennifer Lopez has a few nice moments of pathos as a broke, alcoholic Miami real-estate saleswoman who still looks great in her underwear but acknowledges that 40 is near. From Ohio, Parker's path to revenge crosses Kentucky and New Orleans until he lands in Florida, where he dons a ridiculous cowboy hat and approximates a Texas accent (the joke must surely be funnier in England).

Statham is thus unmoored, devoid of nationality and never satisfactorily American. Complementary eating options would therefore include corn dogs (Ohio), squirrel brains (Kentucky), possum gumbo (Louisiana), or sopa de pollo (Florida), but neither Westlake nor Hackford lets one region leave its stamp. Parker doesn't care where he steals or eats; he's a completely utilitarian agent with a simple code: "We don't steal from people who can't afford it. We don't hurt people who don't deserve it." Lopez's broker, Leslie, latches onto him for a commission, and he honors that deal. Also on his good side are a girlfriend (Aussie actress Emma Booth) and her dad (Nick Nolte), but Parker has a very small good side. The larger, contrary list gets dispatched with bullets, knives, and balcony drops. He's all about efficiency, and never eats in the movie.

For that reason, during an exhausting week, I followed the movie with a quick stop at Tup Tim Thai, whose reasonably priced Chicken Phad Thai ($9.80) almost perfectly matches the price of a movie ticket. Also balanced nicely are the ratio of chicken to noodle to bean sprouts. It's a dish that goes according to plan, just the way Parker likes. He is not a man who likes surprises, and Parker is not a movie of surprises. He'd also like TTT if he ever stopped long enough to eat, but his hunger is only for revenge. Leslie wants to go out for dinner and drinks, but Parker insists, "Let's just stick to business."

Parker the movie is no less a transaction, something to be enjoyed in two hours, then forgotten. The Phad Thai at TTT is no more glamorous or demanding, but both products satisfy. Like Statham's approach to America, you just have to set your standards a little lower.

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