PARKER: 2 STARS

Parker is a complex character. As the subject of a couple of dozen novels by Donald E. Westlake, he's a hardboiled thief with a code of criminal ethics that involves doing the right thing, even if it means killing and maiming people.

"Parker" the movie, is Jason Statham film about a hardboiled robber named Parker who is unafraid to kill and maim to get want he wants. Missing is the complexity of character.  

After a daring robbery goes bad Parker (Statham) is double-crossed and left for dead. But because the movie is called "Parker," he doesn't succumb to the gunshot wounds. Instead he vows to put things right between him and the gang who cheated him out of his $200,000 split of the loot. If you make a deal both sides have to honor it otherwise there's chaos, he says, "and I won't let chaos take over my life."

Except that things get chaotic when he hatches an elaborate plan to get vengeance and his money.

The most shocking thing about "Parker" is that Jason Statham has hair in the opening scene. His usually close cropped do is hidden under a wig that makes him look a bit like George Clooney's English brother. Other than that this is as by-the-book as it gets.

Statham is playing a variation on his Statham Character #1 in which he plays "loner with a past who must protect a loved one" (as opposed to Statham Character #2 which is the "loner with a past who must protect a youthful innocent.") The loved one in this case is money, although there are a number of other characters that could easily have taken the place of the greenbacks.

There's Parker's girlfriend (Emma Booth), who looks more like his daughter and Nick Nolte, who rasps his way through an extended cameo as Parker's business partner. If an Emery board could speak it would sound like the rasp Nolte's vocal chords produce these days. Neither of these characters is given much to do except parade around naked (her, not him) and fill time until the final caper.

More prominent is Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a struggling real estate agent who as the pseudo-love interest and almost co-conspirator doesn't have much to do except deliver lines like, "You don't have to check me for a wire again do you? You can if you want."
She's someone who has bought into the America Dream-Lamborghinis, designer clothes-but can't afford any of it and she's bitter. Bitter enough to embrace a life of crime.

Whether she'll be rewarded and whether Parker's plot pays off is where the movie treads in murky moral territory. For as often as he says things like, "Civilized people need to follow rules-I need to put things right," the moral here seems to be that two wrongs do make a right.

Bad + bad = good.

The movie is so intent on selling the idea that the vengeful killer is really a good guy that a character at the end actually wonders if he is some kind of angel.  

"Parker" is a Jason Statham movie, with all that implies. The good is a brooding physicality he brings to his roles. He looks like he could snap your neck with his steely glare, so when he does it on screen, it works. Trouble is, the mentality behind the muscles to sell a character who lives by his own morally ambiguous rules is simply missing.


 

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS: 1 ½ STARS

Many fairy tales end with the line, "and they lived happily ever after," but have you ever wondered exactly what that means? What happens after the happily ever after?

Does Cinderella grow up to blow her inheritance on Jimmy Choo glass slippers? Did Sleeping Beauty find a second career as an expert in sleep disorders?

A new take on the classic fairy tale suggests what the future might have held for two famous fairyland siblings.

The backstory of "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is familiar. Dumped in the forest by their father, little Hansel and sister Gretel stumble across a welcoming looking gingerbread house. Inside, however, waits a cannibalistic witch with plans to lure them in and have them for dinner-literally. Luckily the clever duo outsmart, outwit and outplay her.

So far it sounds like the story Mrs. Rice read to us in kindergarten.

But here is where the fairy tale fractures. After the happily ever after of the original Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) become bounty hunters specializing in the tracking and extermination of witches. Immune to witch spells and curses, they are uniquely qualified for the job, but as the human sacrifice of the deadly Blood Moon approaches, Hansel and Gretel learn why their father abandoned them in the forest so many years ago.

If you watch the opening credits carefully you'll notice the names Will Ferrell and Adam McKay-the team behind comedies like the upcoming "Bachelorette"-listed as producers. "Could this possibly be a comedy?," you might ask. Well, no. It's more a funny idea than a funny movie. There are some hints of humor sprinkled throughout, but it can't rightfully be called a comedy. Or a horror movie. Or an action movie.

In fact, I'm not exactly sure what to call it. It contains elements of all those things and yet it doesn't really work at being any of them. Sure, there is a cool looking troll named Edward, a giggle or two and some raucous fight scenes, but unlike "Zombieland," which took a genre film and subverted it into something else entirely, "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" doesn't really work.

Renner and Arterton are serviceable as seventeenth Bavarian bounty hunters who speak like they have there own A&E reality show. "The only good witch is a dead witch," says Hansel in a line that feels paraphrased from the lips of the most famous bounty hunter of all, Duane "Dog" Chapman. All that's missing is his ridiculous bleached hair and a can of mace.

"Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" is set up for a sequel, but somehow I doubt this will spawn a franchise. Now "Little Bo Peep: The Modern Prometheus," that's a story I'd pay to see for a movie or two.