TODD PARKER – Boogie Nights
Movie characters, especially in supporting roles, are lucky if the script requires a memorable intro or a grand goodbye moment. Actors are twice as lucky if their director knows the importance of first impressions. Having the right actor to make their introduction stick in an audience’s memory? That’s talent talked about, yet rarely seen.
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson scored big by hiring then-unknown actor Thomas Jane to portray hustler Todd Parker in Boogie Nights. We HEAR Todd before we see him. Anderson whip pans his camera across a backyard party as tires screech offscreen, the side gate gets kicked open and here comes Jane, powering Parker into the party with pure swinging-dick strut. Not only does Thomas Jane’s entrance announce a new character has arrived to keep an eye on, but also an actor with effortless magnetism missing from the screen since the late 1970’s.
Listen to the boyish, giddy giggle given by both Reed and Todd as they move to the bar. It’s just enough of a tip off to let us know these two hard partying Peter Pans don’t have plans of growing up anytime soon. For one, more true than the other.
And for you ladies wanting to be introduced to Todd’s lap? Line forms to the right.
Mark Wahlberg put in the work portraying pipe laying porn star Dirk Diggler and it shows. Not always in a good way. While Wahlberg went on to bring a brand of ease to his roles (not always in a good way) he was left in the thespian dust in every scene shared with Thomas Jane. While Wahlberg wears his role like a suit he’s adjusting to.
On the other hand, Thomas Jane gives the impression he is Todd Parker. Somehow swept off circa 70’s Sherman Way in Reseda by a time traveling P.T. Anderson, brought back to the San Fernando Valley of 1997 to be in a movie spanning the decade he was just plucked from. Whenever Jane appears onscreen – to borrow a Todd Parker phrase – the man is jammin’.
An unspoken rivalry exists between Todd and Dirk. Its’ as if he and Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly, one of the best movie wingmen ever) are green-eared freshman cutting class in the company of Parker’s too cool for school senior. Some of that male dynmaic didn’t make Boogie’s theatical cut, but did make the DVD bonus content. The scene is clearly an improv. Wahlberg’s rookie status is evident between two trained actors. Watch him break near the end at Reilly’s remark.
Even drug addled and wearing a white mesh tank top, Parker remains the Alpha Moe of these three stooges. The Fonize to their Ritchie and Potsie. The dude just radiates cool. Which makes Parker’s exit scene more memorable than his party entrance. It puts the hustle bustler in a coveted club of movie characters with a great intro and outro (sure that’s a word. I just used it, didn’t I?).
It all starts with oddly meloncholy slow burn. Todd, forlorn and sullen on the sofa. No one being introduced to his lap. He appears deflated. As if all the blow to his dome has caused his brain to pull the drain on his pool of cool. Then Parker rallies. His mumble rising like an ignition trying to turn an engine over on a tank full of fumes. Then the shit gets real, goes down and hits the fan.
From playboy party pal to pistol packing petulant child, Parker melts down in the most nuclear entertaining manner. Call it The China White Syndrome. Thomas Jane takes the “floor safe” speech and show us a mind becoming unhinged. Lickity split quick, things turn worse and pick up full-blown shit show speed. Before anyone in the room realizes it, they’ve got themselves first class tickets on Conducter Todd’s Crazy Train.
After that, things don’t bode well for our boy. There’s no trace of the swagger. No self control. No one to be introduced to his lap.
All the while, Jane gives a star making performance, pulling pathos from Parker’s particular quest to rally his frightened friends like some demented life coach. On his way to the infamous bedroom where Parker’s fate awaits, Jane manages to pull a hilarious Jack Tripper style stumble into a lamp that’d make the late John Ritter proud.
Looks like this supporting character spinoff will need to be a prequel.