Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Parker vs. Bullet to the Head, two big-budget action flicks starring big strong men with even stronger accents.
Sylvester Stallone is hard to beat as far as action stars go. While Parker's Jason Statham has some impressive experience in the genre (Snatch, Crank, and The Transporter come to mind), those early-aughts adrenaline rushes can't quite measure up to Rocky and the four sequels it spawned, each admittedly lower-quality but still iconic.
And yet, we find ourselves more interested in Statham than Stallone here. Maybe it's how each man introduces himself: Stallone does so with tired metaphors for murder (see: "I take out the trash," and "I remove those hard-to-get-at stains"), while Statham opens with a slightly updated Robin Hood act (see: "Civilized people need to live by rules and these are mine," and "I don't steal from people who can't afford it"). Granted, neither is especially novel, but Statham comes off as a rebel with a cause; Stallone, as little more than a self-impressed hit man. We are not impressed.
As is required of every action flick, both Parker and Bullet feature walking, talking objects of desire. Parker scored J.Lo, who is literally introduced to us in her underwear, in bed. She's clothed during her getting-to-know-you car ride with Statham, but only briefly, before she's asked to disrobe again for "security" reasons (and how painfully fearful is her expression in that scene?). Then comes the inevitable shower sex, spliced in with the violent action clips towards the trailer's end. We'd rather not unpack that association.
Bullet's leading lady is Stallone's daughter, played by Sarah Shahi—but hell if she can't also be objectified, too! We almost want to applaud Bullet for being a little more transparently paternalistic towards its supporting actress. Parker pretends that J.Lo and Statham are partners in crime, when we all know she's just there to follow his lead through the whole ordeal and reward him afterwards with the aforementioned shower sex. None of that in Bullet: Shahi is for the audience's (rolling) eyes only. We liked her on The L Word, so we think she'll do the best she can with her part. Her dialogue at the beginning might actually convince us to care for an otherwise uninspiring lead.
Advantage: Bullet to the Head
Action flicks, of course, promise more than lady-loving-action—namely, fist-fighting-guns-blazing action. Both Parker and Bullet deliver, but in different ways. Parker seems more in the vein of other modern-day action movies, with lots of car chases, automatic pistols, and precarious close-quarters combat on the highest floors of a skyscraper. There's also some good old-fashioned fisticuffs in the mix, but we're actually most excited by the household objects as makeshift weapons, especially the toilet tank lid that gets smashed over Parker's head. Resourceful!
One thing that Bullet has that Parker does not is the requisite gigantic car explosion. Which is great, but we're drawn to the totally badass axe duel (yes, axe duel) that ensues towards the end. Where Parker relies on physical spectacle, there's some psychological interest to Bullet in the fact that Stallone has one central foe to fight (did we mention it's with an axe?). Ultimately, both films promise a good sampling of action-flick tropes and also some pretty inventive new violence.
Both films also try out some humor in between all the rumble. Bullet's first stab is pretty cringe-worthy, when Stallone asks his Asian costar, Sung Kang, if he plans to "bring out some kung fu from the homeland." Kang responds with oh-you-silly-racist good humor, "I was born in Florida!" Oh, the thought! Things don't get much better from there: Kang takes a cheap stab at Stallone's dated music taste, and then actually takes problem with the phrase "broken record." "They don't even make records anymore," he astutely counters.
Parker fares better as a comedy. It's little things, like Statham trying to sport a Southern accent, or that toilet tank lid being used in mortal combat, that keep it from taking itself too seriously. And even in its more explicit attempts at humor, like Lopez's in-car fact checking and Statham's jest about caffeine, it beats out Bullet's stale offerings.
It's important to judge action movies against their own standards, and in a tally of all the genre's tropes and traditions, Parker comes out on top without being too clichéd or indistinct from every other action movie, ever.
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