Silver Screen: Parker ***1/2
Setting is no problem is Taylor Hackford’s sharp if unspectacular adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, simply (and blandly) titled Parker. The movie opens with a dynamite setpiece, a heist at the Ohio State Fair. It’s an unconventional place to kick off a revenge thriller, but it works brilliantly. You can practically smell the funnel cakes frying and hear the vomit splattering on the Tilt-a-whirl as our coolly efficient antihero Parker (Jason Statham) cases the fairgrounds in preparation for a big score. He’s hatching the scheme with an unfamiliar crew led by remorseless thug Melander (Michael Chiklis) and rounded out with a couple terrific character actors (Clifton Collins Jr. and The Wire’s Wendell Pierce).
After the heist takes a disastrous turn, Melander double-crosses Parker and leaves him for dead. But of course Richard Stark’s remorseless tough guy is never dead, and he never leaves a grudge unsettled. With info from his boss (Nick Nolte), Parker tracks the crew down to the wealthy community of West Palm Beach, Florida, where Melander’s boys are working on their biggest score yet. Rather than kill them outright, Parker teams up with a dingy realtor (Jennifer Lopez) with plans to bump them off just after they’ve stolen tens of millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry, which he plans to take for himself as compensation.
The plot of Parker is almost identical to that of the two unrelated movies the character has appeared in before, 1967’s Point Blank (where he’s called Walker and played by Lee Marvin) and 1999’s Payback (starring Mel Gibson). John Boorman’s 1967 version is superior, but director Brian Helgeland gave Payback a cool retro charm, and here Hackford injects the story with a lighter, tropical noir energy more reminiscent of Elmore Leonard than Richard Stark. It works well enough, alternating between breezy humor and intense violence with mixed success.
Statham isn’t an ideal Parker. The role was tailor-made for Marvin, and Gibson did a fairly credible job as well. But even though Statham is more palooka than hoodlum, he’s capable. As action stars go, he evinces an unusual streak of intelligence and can find his way around a knot of witty repartee. He also lends real credibility to the fight scenes, which are brutal, good fun, especially the penultimate showdown with a knife-wielding assassin. Lopez does nothing but get in his way, both as a character and an actress, but Statham makes the bloody best of it and turns Parker into a nifty bit of mid-winter escapism.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.