If the eponymous, principled thief of Taylor Hackford’s Parker rings somewhat familiar, moviegoers with a taste for pulp would be correct in suspecting that they’ve spent time with the character before. Invented by author Donald E. Westlake and played here by Jason Statham, Parker has graced the big screen several times already under different names -- most recently by Mel Gibson in 1999’s Payback, and perhaps most memorably by Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s eerie 1967 crime classic Point Blank. Yes, Statham has some pretty big shoes to fill, and while he may not have Marvin’s mesmerizing stride while striking back at a vicious gang of diamond thieves, he’s a more-than-worthy successor to his charismatic predecessors, playing the character with a compelling sense of authority and a sly trace of humor while blurring the line between hero and villain.
When veteran thief Hurley (Nick Nolte) assembles a crackerjack crew for a big heist at the Ohio State Fair, his fiercely independent protege Parker (Statham) is the perfect man to take the lead on the job. Together with Melander (Michael Chiklis), Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.), Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman), and Carlson (Wendell Pierce), Parker successfully pulls off a daring daytime heist that nets the crew more than $1 million. But when Parker respectfully declines Melander’s offer to invest their take in an ambitious diamond heist with a massive potential payday, he is unceremoniously shot and left for dead. Unfortunately for Melander and his gang, Parker is still very much alive, and he’s determined to have his revenge. With the help of Hurley and Hurley’s daughter Claire (Emma Booth), Parker manages to learn that the heist will take place in West Palm Beach, FL, and he travels there to pose as a wealthy Texan seeking to purchase a new home. Meanwhile, astute real-estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez) quickly sees through Parker’s game and asks to get a cut of the action. Now a team, Parker and Leslie figure out that the gang is planning to hit a high-profile jewelry auction. All they have to do is wait until Melander and his men have pulled off the heist. Once the jewels are secure and the thieves are lying low at a local house, the stage will be set for Parker to take his revenge and make a small fortune in the process.
One of the 20th century’s most celebrated crime novelists, the prolific Westlake also wrote a number of screenplays throughout his career (he passed away in December of 2008), including such cult favorites as 1987’s The Stepfather and 1990’s The Grifters. Thanks to the direction of Hollywood veteran Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate, Ray) and the pen of screenwriter John J. McLaughlin, one of the late author’s most famous characters is in decidedly good hands. By opening the film with a heist that simultaneously reveals both the essence of Parker’s personality and the treachery of his rivals, McLaughlin impressively gets the movie off to an exciting start while also building the tension needed to drive the story. Although McLaughlin doesn’t maintain this breathless momentum in act two as Parker reaches Florida and starts plotting his revenge, Hackford keeps the audience involved by accentuating the subtle humor of the screenplay. He also directs the intermittent action scenes with an exciting energy, and coaxes playful, convincing performances out of leads Statham and Lopez -- the former effortlessly gets us to root for his likeable antihero, and the latter gives Leslie an impressive amount of depth with a soul-baring speech that reveals the aging divorcee’s deepest fears.
As his inclusion in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables franchise indicated, Statham stands as one of the few contemporary action stars with the personality and physicality to carry a big-budget shoot-’em-up. Here, he also successfully manages to make a character already played memorably by some pretty talented actors all his own. So while the story might feel slightly conventional, it’s the confident execution that elevates Parker a few steps above the typical revenge flick. Here’s hoping that unlike those who came before him, Statham gets the opportunity to slip into these well-worn shoes sometime again in the future. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan