Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pearce, Clifton Collins Jr., Nick Nolte, Emma Booth
Rated: R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content/nudity
Anyone who sees the trailers for “Parker” and is strongly reminded of the 1999 Mel Gibson movie “Payback” is on the money — both are based on novels from the same series by Donald E. Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark). They’re based on different novels, but have very similar premises: career criminal Parker (Jason Statham in this year’s flick) is double-crossed by his associates after a heist that doesn’t meet Parker’s standards. He’s left for dead, but survives and sets out to get what’s owed him. It’s a classic revenge story that, provided you’re willing to overlook a few glaring flaws, is well worth watching if you like Statham and the genre.
There’s a lot to recommend “Parker.” Statham is in his element, playing a principled criminal who has his rules and will not hesitate to use deadly force against those who break them. There are gunfights, hand-to-hand fights, lots of stealth and suspense, and even a memorable knife fight for Statham to show off his stunt and martial-art prowess. He also gets to show his softer side during the few scenes between Parker and his girlfriend, Claire.
The secondary cast is mostly excellent. Nick Nolte plays Claire’s father, a long-time associate of Parker’s and a criminal himself. Michael Chiklis is the leader of the little gang that turns on Parker, and seems to be having a lot of fun in the role. The other members of the gang are mostly playing stereotypes — the tech guy, the enforcer, and the inept but well-connected kid — but you don’t go to a movie like this for the character development. The actors and the action deliver 100%, and that’s what matters.
Where the film falls apart is its inclusion of Jennifer Lopez as a completely unnecessary and annoying secondary character. Too much time is spent putting the action plot on hold while her depressing life as a struggling real estate agent in Palm Beach is detailed. Although she’s apparently supposed to act as Parker’s coach and passport into Palm Beach society, she never really does, and what little she does to move the plot forward could easily have been handled a different way. Her character serves virtually no function other than to look pretty, provide ham-fisted and unconvincing romantic tension with Statham, and annoy the audience. She does come equipped with a delightfully eccentric mother, but her mom appears so little that the connection doesn’t justify her existence. J-Lo isn’t a bad actress, but she’s working with awful material that does no favors for the film’s pacing.
If you’re willing to tolerate a character whose every appearance on screen is like nails on a chalkboard in order to get your annual ration of Statham-fighting-people-goodness, “Parker” is well worth seeing in theaters. If you’re not, wait for DVD so you can fast-forward through her bits. It’ll bring the film down to a tight ninety minutes or so, and you won’t lose much in terms of plot.