"WELL, I gave Jennifer a call. I said, 'I have a great role for you in a film called, 'Parker.' So she knew she didn't have the lead!"
That was director Taylor Hackford at the Museum of Modern Art last week, speaking prior to the screening of his new film "Parker." It's true that Miss Jennifer Lopez is not exactly the lead in this action flick, but she has plenty to do. As for acting choice, Lopez made the right one, I think.
"Parker" stars Jason Statham and is based on the many thrillers featuring this deadly hero, written by the late Donald E. Westlake, (under the name Richard Stark.) This is not the first movie to star Parker, but it is the first to use the character's name in its title. In the books, he is never given a full name -- just "Parker."
Mr. Westlake's widow, Abby, was among the MOMA audience that braved sub-zero temperatures to enjoy the fast-paced violence and wry one-liners spat out by Statham and others. (If the film is successful, there is a franchise in the making.)
Director Taylor Hackford -- who just happens to be married to the divine actress and star Helen Mirren -- said that his latest movie is "an unapologetic gangster/action/thriller. And I love those films!" He surely must. This is the slam-bang epitome of the genre. And it is the kind of movie for which former martial arts trainer/swimmer/model Jason Statham has become famous. He is grim, deadly and forever sporting a three-day stubble.
Aside from Jason and Jennifer, "Parker" also features, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte, newcomers Emma Booth and Micah A. Hauptman and -- playing Jennifer's hilarious mother -- the Broadway star, Patti LuPone. Director Hackford described Patti as "The diva of divas. Not because she was difficult, but because of her talent." LuPone took a glamorous bow from the audience, wearing chic black, swathed in beige fur, matching her beige spike heels. (Jason and Jennifer appeared briefly near the podium, where Hackford was speaking. They both looked like real glittery movie stars.)
"PARKER" opened Friday. The reviews are out now. Most were far from kind.
I can't predict the box office, but let me assure you, the screening audience was vociferous in its approval. Lots of laughs, lots of gasps, plenty of applause and quite a bit of cringing, at the violence -- it's unashamedly gory. (Don't know if Mr. Westlake's widow was quite prepared for what Mr. Statham endures on screen, or what he and other characters are capable of in this fantasy world of high crime and viciously low characters. She turned away at one especially brutal moment. Even big strong men were turning away!)
It was Lopez who received the most approving reaction. She plays a frustrated, debt-ridden divorcee, looking for a way out of her dead-end life. I'm not giving anything away, but let me assure you; don't mess with a frustrated, debt-ridden divorcee. You will regret it.
A word here about Lopez the actress. I've always found her appealing on screen, warm, vital and amusing. Not everybody agrees, but I firmly believe her detractors are (still) reacting to what they think Jennifer is off screen. Her role in "Parker" gives her an opportunity to be dramatic, romantic, funny, depressed, euphoric and violent. The audience stays with her all the way. It is pointless, though I will mention it anyway -- she also looks fabulous. (I read one review that absurdly referred to her as "aging." Yeah, who isn't? Also the character she plays mentions her maturity, and not in a good way.)
As for Jason Statham, he's hot and taciturn. He's always hot and taciturn. He does hot and taciturn very well. But, maybe he might try something a little different. He doesn't have to co-star with children or animals -- he doesn't have to be lovable. But a slight variation could be refreshing. Not to mention a clean-shaven kisser.
"Parker" the movie, looks good. It's not exactly original, but how many thrillers are? Lots of revenge here, betrayal and the odd "principles" of criminals. I will say the plot is far more understandable than many movies of this sort, including many in which Mr. Statham has appeared. (He gained fame in a number of those incredibly convoluted Guy Ritchie gangster epics that have to be seen three times before you still don't get it!) In "Parker," everybody knew exactly what everybody's motivations were. This is a rarity in crime thrillers.
The screening was hosted by The Cinema Society, L'Oreal Paris and Appleton Estate liquors. Rum cocktails were served at the after-party at the hot, newly refurbished Marquee Club downtown. (Given the time, and the temperature, many in the audience -- which included actress Lucy Lawless and director Lee Daniels -- though eager for warming rum -- rushed home.)
"Parker" is no masterpiece, but I'd still rather watch Jason Statham implausibly defeat his enemies, suffering a horribly punctured hand and four broken ribs, than suffer through the super-close-up, overwrought agonies of "Les Miserables."
AT THE screening I spotted, of all people, Peggy Siegal, Manhattan's official Queen of the Night.
This was not a Peggy Siegal event. She and Cinema Society's Andrew Saffir are friendly competitors in the Manhattan world of party and premiere giving. (Some people are going to snicker that I didn't put quote marks around the word friendly. But let Peggy and Andrew fight it out.)
Peggy was there to support her old friend Taylor Hackford. After the movie was over, Peggy pulled me aside, laughing, and said, "My three-word review -- not enough blood!"
DOUBTLESS you already saw The New York Social Diary's photos of the opening of the Winter Antique Show at the Armory on Park Avenue, NYC.
But what struck me about this night, one of the coldest in New York history, was this party -- celebrating its 59th year, and another party -- celebrating its 40th year, down at One Bowling Green, held by the Landmarks Conservancy, which saves New York buildings.
I sent my specialist in antiques/antiquities, Iris Love, to cover the Armory. She pronounced it a huge success "with real collectors, dealers and experts and great food!" She was particularly taken with offerings from the Roger Keverne gallery, which had two splendid Chinese Wei dynasty horses. Says Iris: "The Chinese were so ahead of everyone else. They had developed fly masks to protect horses' faces in the 4th to 6th centuries A.D." And she also raved about Rupert Wace's superb Etruscan/Greek/Mesopotamian antiquities. And galleries devoted to American folk art, a big up and coming thing!
The social leader Arie Kopelman chairs this event, which will have its Diamond Jubilee next year.
The Landmarks event was celebrating already being 40 and was all the way downtown in the massive building originally called The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House, which now houses the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Uncle Sam largely abandoned this great old building, designed by Cass Gilbert way back when, but the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan helped the Landmarks put it to greater use.
It boasts a cavernous hall with fabled Reginald Marsh scenes of New York Harbor "way up there" around the ceiling. So we Landmarks celebrated there with the city's architects and conservators and colleagues lifting glasses. (You must see this building if you never have!)
Landmarks leader Peg Breen introduced our chairman, the impressive Stuart Siegel. The mayor sent Landmarks chair Robert Tierney to read a proclamation and I made a few idiotic remarks about what it feels like to be the oldest person in the room.
The irrepressible Elizabeth Stribling covered both parties. No wonder. She represents most of New York real estate.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)