J-Lo Wasted in Lackluster ‘Parker’; Dated ‘Yossi’: Movies

Abundantly self-possessed and beautiful, Jennifer Lopez hardly seems like a woman without options.

Shoehorned into “Parker,” a treadmill of an action movie, however, she weeps, shudders and strips as the film’s damsel in distress.

Neither the quirk-free movie nor director Taylor Hackford has a clue what to do with the brash Lopez.

Jason Statham plays Parker, the master thief with an ethical streak and a lethal disposition who appeared in many of Donald E. Westlake’s crime novels stretching back to 1962. (Westlake wrote the Parker books under the pseudonym Richard Stark).

Like the film itself, pairing Statham and Lopez, who aren’t given a romance, is an opportunity squandered. Lopez has more fun with Patti LuPone, who plays Lopez’ flamboyant Cuban mother.

At his best (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”), the British Statham suggests a sly, below-the-surface danger. Just as often, as in “Parker,” he’s merely furrow-browed and humorless.

“I don’t steal from people who can’t afford it and don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it,” Parker announces early, as if to justify the violence to come.

Based on the novel “Flashfire,” published in 2000, “Parker” follows its anti-hero’s quest for revenge and remuneration in tony West Palm Beach. His one-time gang, headed by a backstabbing boss (Michael Chiklis), is planning to steal $50 million in jewelry during a glitzy high society auction.

Robbing Robbers

Lopez plays Leslie, a Palm Beach realtor showing mansions to Parker (disguised as a rich Texan in boots and Stetson). Initially unaware that Parker is merely scouting for the home where his old gang might be hiding out, Leslie soon catches on and wants in on Parker’s rob-from-the-robbers scheme.

In the most dispiriting scene, the camera ogles Lopez as Leslie stands in bra and panties for Parker’s inspection. That’s only one of the film’s dated touches.

Worse, Hackford doesn’t offer the visual panache or clever self-awareness that could turn this pedestrian genre film into something with flourish.

Instead, “Parker” quickly settles into a lurching routine of explosive, predictable set pieces.

The best of them opens the movie: a million-dollar robbery of the Ohio State Fair that just might be the action genre’s first use of farm animals.

“Parker,” from FilmDistrict, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

Sad ‘Yossi’

The way the Israeli drama “Yossi” treats the subject of gay grief seems closer in spirit to the early ’60s (the era of Christopher Isherwood’s similarly themed novel “A Single Man” and the movie Tom Ford made from it) than to today.

The title character is the same moon-faced sad sack (played by the same good actor, Ohad Knoller) who first appeared in Eytan Fox’s 2002 story of love and death among soldiers, “Yossi and Jagger.”

Fox has set his sequel 10 years later. Yossi, now a respected but standoffish doctor, is still grieving for Jagger and still closeted.

Skillfully Paced

Why? The colleagues who try to break through his shell seem like kind, open-minded people, not homophobes. If he told them the truth, even the nurse with a crush on him would probably try to set him up with an eligible man.

It’s a quiet, skillfully paced picture, but not terribly smart. The solution it comes up with for Yossi’s solitude is the same one that has marred a thousand other movies about loneliness: a hunk (Oz Zehavi) who drops down out of nowhere and spies the soul under Yossi’s middle-aged flab.

Since he’s young and out, the director may be trying to show how attitudes and expectations vary between different generations of gay men. What he’s really doing, though, is selling the same tinsel fantasy the movies were pushing long before Yossi and Jagger’s lips first met.

“Yossi,” from Strand Releasing, is playing in New York. Rating: *** (Seligman)

Insect Monsters

I never did figure where the decapitated goon with the swastika on his tongue at the beginning of “John Dies at the End” fit into the plot. But since something vile or dire happens every five minutes or so in this indie horror comedy, it didn’t occur to me to wonder until it was over.

Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, from a novel by David Wong, it has college-age kids battling insectoidal monsters and extraterrestrial ghosts. The special effects -- arms bloodily detaching, bugs swarming out of headless necks -- are just good/bad enough to keep you laughing.

Inspired (at least in spirit) by the 1985 “Re-Animator,” and full of its own re-animated corpses, the movie has a happy-go-lucky trippiness that makes it a different beast from the torture porn now dominating the horror box office.

“Re-Animator” was typical of fright films that quietly establish their context in the first half so they can unleash a nightmare in the second. “John Dies at the End” is structured differently: It starts out unruly and maintains its high.

If the gross-outs fall short of the very best, well that’s all right. It’s happy just to entertain.

“John Dies at the End,” from Magnet Releasing, is playing in L.A. It opens in New York on Feb. 1. Rating: *** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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