HARD-HITTING VIOLENCE MARKS “PARKER” FOR ACTION THRILLS
A Film Review by Tim Riley
PARKER (Rated R) The big guns have arrived in January, and this has nothing to do with the NRA. Guns galore run rampant at the movies, from “Gangster Squad” to this week’s “Parker.” Even Hansel and Gretel are in the gun business, toting weaponry that would be the envy of mercenaries fighting battles from the sands of North Africa to the jungles of South America.
When he was a vampire hunter, Abe Lincoln didn’t use machine guns, as I recall, but the titular characters in “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” having escaped the gingerbread house, rely on the massive firepower of automatic weapons. The gun culture is more comfortably at home (if it can be stated this way) in “Parker,” only because Jason Statham is by now a very familiar figure as the tough guy in a string of action pictures, most of them requiring the use of you-know-what.
“Parker” is notable because it is based on one of the many crime novels from prolific author Donald E. Westlake, who created the hard-boiled noir environment in which a professional thief became an iconic anti-hero. A veteran of hard-hitting action thrillers, Jason Statham is just right as charismatic bad boy Parker, a ruthless criminal who surprisingly operates under his own stringent ethical code.
Parker is not your ordinary thug, though he will beat an adversary into an unrecognizable pulp. He operates by a code of honor to only steal from those who can afford the loss and to bring no harm to the innocent bystanders. Above all, Parker is a thief, capable of extreme violence, but he’s not a psychopath, like some of the desperate criminals with whom he has to regrettably associate to get the job done.
The action begins brilliantly with a large caper at the Ohio State Fair, where an elaborate plan is in place to steal the $1 million take from the weekend gate receipts. Parker is recruited to the heist by Hurley (Nick Nolte), his crime world mentor and father of his girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth), to whom Parker is extremely devoted.
An expert at planning and executing seemingly impossible heists, Parker is daring and meticulous but all he requires from his crew is absolute loyalty and strict adherence to the plan. The Ohio State Fair robbery turns deadly because of a crew member’s reckless behavior, and as a result, Parker declines to join vicious crime boss Melander (Michael Chiklis) and his gang for their next big job.
Not willing to take no for an answer, Melander’s gang of thieves turns on Parker with a brutal attack, leaving him for dead by the side of a deserted road. The most inept member of the Melander crew is Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman), the spoiled nephew of a ruthless Chicago mob boss. And he’s the one who supposedly administered the coup de grace to Parker.
But Parker survives the attack (the first of many such encounters), and after a quickly miraculous recovery, he is bent on vengeance against the men who betrayed him and made off with his share of the loot. Melander had boasted that the proceeds from the state fair heist were meant to finance a really major score of stolen jewelry. And so Parker traces the gang to the glitzy confines of tony Palm Beach.
Posing as a wealthy Texas oilman, complete with the ten gallon hat and cowboy boots, Parker feigns interest in buying a big piece of local real estate. As luck would have it, Parker meets struggling real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), who happens to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the island and its wealthy socialite inhabitants.
The extremely attractive Leslie tells Parker that she’s pushing 40 and still living at home, after a nasty divorce, with her soap opera-obsessed mother (Patti LuPone). Believe it or not, Parker keeps everything strictly professional and does not fall for Leslie’s obvious romantic interest in him, even after he’s seen her stripped down to her underwear.
With her unexpected help, Parker uncovers the gang’s plan to make off with more than $50 million worth of jewels that are part of a famous estate auction. That Parker is a crisp, proficient killing machine is all the more reason that Jason Statham landed the role. This movie is a perfect fit for the British actor, all the better for his gruff physical nature.
With minimal dialogue, Statham’s anti-hero is the lone wolf vigilante who will go from one ferocious fight scene to the next with single-minded tough guy intensity. Not surprisingly, given Statham’s natural talent for considerable action, “Parker” is a coolly efficient action thriller that gets a lot of mileage from its protagonist.
Full of bone-crunching fights and profusely bloody battles, “Parker” is a bare-knuckles thriller that pumps the action adrenaline to a high level.