Film Review: Parker

Left for dead after a bungled heist, a robber vows revenge on the crooks who double-crossed him. Hard-hitting adaptation of a Donald Westlake novel finds Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez in peak form.

Defiantly old-fashioned, Parker resurrects novelist Donald Westlake's influential crime character as a vehicle for Jason Statham. Parker, who appeared under different names in Westlake adaptations like Point Blank, The Outfit and Payback, changed pulp forever with his cold, brutal methods and implacable appetite for vengeance. It's a role that for the most part fits action star Jason Statham like a glove.

Parker is first seen disguised as a priest and robbing the Ohio State Fair. His cohorts—Melander (Michael Chiklis), the mob-connected Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman), Ross (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Carlson (Wendell Pierce)—want Parker to steal millions in jewelry from a Palm Beach auction. When Parker refuses, they shoot him and leave the body in a ditch.

Helped by his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) and her father (Nick Nolte), a retired crook, Parker is soon back on his feet and out for his share of the loot. Scouting Miami, he meets realtor Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez), a divorcée a step away from bankruptcy. After finding Melander's hideout, Parker comes up with a plan to exact his revenge. But the mob has placed a killer on his trail, forcing Parker to rely on Leslie and her mother (Patti LuPone) for help.

The first hour of Parker has a propulsive energy that has been sadly missing from recent thrillers. As adapted by John J. McLaughlin, the screenplay is all nuts and bolts and very little filler: Parker wants something, people try to stop him, violence ensues. Once the film reaches Miami, the pacing flags a bit, especially when Statham is asked to don a Stetson and imitate a Texan.

But director Taylor Hackford, working for the first time in the genre, redeems himself with the climactic heist and showdown. Part of this is due to Westlake's incredibly tight plotting, in which Parker keeps having to adjust his plans as complications emerge. Hackford focuses squarely on advancing the story, keeping sentiment to a minimum.

Accents aside, Statham does an impressive job in a role that has attracted Lee Marvin and Robert Duvall, among others. Statham's Parker moves like a shark and displays about as much emotion. His action scenes are especially impressive, including a one-on-one fight in a hotel suite that looks more painful than exciting.

Given an actual character and not a role designed for a diva, Lopez does her best work in years. Life has stripped Leslie of her illusions, and Lopez isn't afraid to play her desperate and even a little tawdry. Anchored by a thoroughly convincing Michael Chiklis as a ruthless ringleader, the supporting cast is aces.

Mainstream critics tend to be biased against action films in general and Statham in particular. Westlake, who died in 2008, may help bring a larger audience to Parker. Taken on its own terms, the film is a taut, believable and beautifully played film noir.