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Parker, Movie 43

Movie 43

Sight Unseen

Parker, Movie 43

It’s hardly news that in the past decade Hollywood marketers have become increasingly reluctant to preview their product widely, preferring to limit screenings to the large markets where a handful of reviewers, most of them eager to please, can deliver happy reports to syndicated readers. It makes even more sense with films that are pretty much guaranteed to get bad reviews. But that kind of narrow thinking can miss the point if you believe in the adage that all publicity is good publicity.

Look at two movies that opened last weekend with virtually no press previews anywhere in the US. Parker is a vehicle for British action star Jason Statham, who has enough of a following to ensure that his movies turn a profit but who is unlikely to break through to a wider audience. So with the faithful in line, why bother trying to spread the word?

What the marketing guys overlooked here is that this movie is based on one of a long series of novels by Richard Stark, aka the late, lamented Donald E. Westlake, that has quite a following among journalists for its merciless tone and spare, hard-boiled style. Critics who might not otherwise be receptive to two hours of Statham beating his foes bloody (and receiving as bad as he gives) have been happy to take the chance to write an appreciation of the books and to refer back to other onscreen appearances of the character, most notably played by Lee Marvin in the classic Point Blank (1967).

As far as that goes, it’s not a bad adaptation. The character—a professional thief who approaches his tasks with relentless focus, stymied only by the failings of the people he works with—has inevitably been softened somewhat. (I don’t know if I would want to see a wholly accurate Parker onscreen.) But the plot (taken from Stark’s Flashfire, published in 2000) is relatively intact in spinning Parker’s efforts to track a crew who muscled him out of the profits of a job and left him for dead. The film is efficiently directed by Taylor Hackford, who like so many British émigrés loves to linger over his favorite bits of Americana, which here include his adopted city of New Orleans and the expensive pastel tackiness of Palm Beach. And if Statham remains more comfortable leaping and punching than he does delivering dialogue, you’ll find it hard not to laugh at his attempt at a Texas accent.

Publicity would also have helped the dire Movie 43, though in this case potential ticket buyers are the winners. In development for nearly five years, this is a series of short comic films tied together as ideas being pitched by an over-the-hill producer to a Hollywood executive. Oddly, the British version has an entirely different frame, about a kid looking for the world’s grossest movie on the internet.

The humor is mostly gross and scatological, along the lines of those parody movies that seem to finally have run their course (Meet the Spartans, Not Another Teen Movie, Date Movie, Epic Movie, etc.) Whether the humor here, which hits bottom early on with a sequence about a young man whose beloved asks him to prove his love by defecating on her, reaches new heights for the genre could only be judged by someone who has actually seen all of these movies, and that person isn’t me.

What makes Movie 43 different is the jaw-dropping cast. Those other films were made cheaply with stars of little or no name value. Here, by contrast, can be found Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Anna Faris, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Dennis Quaid, and Greg Kinnear, and I assure you I’m only scratching the surface. Trumpeting all those names, even in reviews lamenting how poorly they were used, might well have boosted the ticket sales for this flop.

In some future film school, I’m sure an entire class will be taught on how this movie came into existence and how all of these stars were roped into appearing in it. It might even have worked if the various directors and whoever was overseeing the entire project had focused on the apparent premise, which seems to be the very notion of putting big stars in gross scenes. By that standard, the film is too mild: it’s not so much shocking as merely discomfiting. TV’s “Robot Chicken” could probably make most of these sketches funny by using cheap dolls to play famous movie actors: having the actors themselves doing it may show that they’re willing to be in on the joke, but that misses the whole point of the joke. See it if you want: you may find it an interesting movie to experience and discuss. As far as actual entertainment value, though, forget it.

Watch the trailer for Parker

Watch the trailer for Movie 43

Caution: this is a "red-band" trailer, intended for mature audiences only.

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