The adage that all good things must come to an end certainly held true on the film front this weekend. After awarding three perfect scores in row to “Django Unchained,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” I returned to reality and watched “Parker,” the new crime thriller starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. While it isn’t a really bad movie, it does serve as a realistic reminder about the vast difference between mediocrity and excellence in films.
“Parker” takes its name from the film’s main character based upon the fictional creation of author Donald E. Westlake, who published “The Hunter,” the first of 24 Parker novels during the next 46 years, back in 1962. This film is an adaptation of “Flashfire,” the 19th book in the series, which was published in 2000.
The film opens at the Ohio State Fair, where Parker (Statham), who makes his living as a thief, and his four cohorts – Melander (Michael Chiklis), Carlson (Wendell Pierce), Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.), and Kroll (Daniel Bernhardt) – pull off a successful heist. Parker only participated in the job with four other guys he has never met before at the behest of his best buddy, Hurley (Nick Nolte).
As the five men are making their getaway, one of them proposes another job that will make them even more money than they have just cleared, but Parker wants no part of it. And so Parker’s four new acquaintances shoot him and leave him for dead on the side of the road. Of course, if Parker had died, the film would have ended after only about 15 minutes, but he lives to be found and transported to the hospital by a passing couple.
When Parker gets out of the hospital, he tells Hurley he is going after Melander and the others to exact revenge for what they did to him. In the meantime, Melander and his guys find out that Parker is alive, and Kroll attempts to kidnap Claire (Emma Booth), Hurley’s daughter and Parker’s girlfriend, for leverage. But Claire manages to thwart the kidnapping attempt, and Hurley tries to convince Parker to take Claire somewhere safe and forget the whole thing. Naturally Parker wants no part of that, and when he learns that Melander and the other scumbags are planning a huge diamond heist in Palm Beach, Fla., he packs his sunglasses and heads south.
In Palm Beach, Parker disguises himself as Daniel Parmett, a wealthy Texan looking for real estate. Enter Leslie Rogers (Lopez), a down-on-her luck realtor who is overjoyed to help Parmett find an expensive home. She also is immediately attracted to him, but he seems to be strangely aloof, and she begins to suspect something is amiss when Parmett shows an interest in only one house. Now it just happens to be the home where Melander, posing as someone else, and his vermin are living. When she does some snooping around, she learns that Parmett is a fraud, and she soon wishes she had never met him because she gets in the way of his plans for vengeance.
Although you won’t find anything really fresh or original in this film, Parker is an interesting character in that he is a likable criminal. He definitely is his own man, and Statham is cast well in the role because he comes across as a very tough guy with a heart. In the film’s production notes Oscar-winning director Taylor Hackford (“Ray”) offered a perceptive analysis of Parker.
“The wonderful thing about Parker is that he has an unshakable code of ethics. He is completely unapologetic about what he does. He’s a thief, he is capable of extreme violence, but he’s not a psychopath. In fact, he lets people know right off the bat that if they do what he says, they won’t get hurt. He only steals from people who can afford the loss. He is somebody with integrity who has chosen a criminal path. And if he’s going to do something with an accomplice, there is a bond. If he’s crossed, as he is in this movie, he’ll go to the ends of the earth to get even.
“Westlake gives this thief an unusual sense of sanity and thoughtfulness. It’s a great character with a lot of layers, and he’s got a sense of humor that appeals to me. He’s a man who does anything to put things right. Sometimes he steps over the law, but I think he sees all business as corrupt, so what he’s doing is just taking his piece of the pie. While he could bulldoze his way through most situations, he prefers to do things in a mild-mannered way. But if you cross the line, he’s capable of doing something quite horrific.”
The biggest surprise in this film for me was Lopez. I’ve never been a big fan of hers because she usually makes inane romantic comedies, but here in the part of Leslie she does quite well. She has the chance to portray a character who has failed in a marriage and whose career as a realtor is on the ropes. And while Leslie elicits our sympathy, she also possesses a humorous strength, and even though this part is not typical of those Lopez is accustomed to playing, she makes the most of it. In the production notes, Hackford explained why he chose Lopez for the role.
“Leslie is a person who seems like she has reached the end of the road, but she still refuses to give up. I think that is very definitely Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer comes from the Bronx, she has had highs and lows, but she has moxie. She will survive. That’s why I chose her for the role.”
In the supporting parts, Chiklis makes a sufficiently despicable villain, and the gravel-throated Nolte is somewhat amusing as Parker’s best friend and potential father-in-law.
Because Parker is such an intriguing character, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Statham return in several more films about him. The movie is not particularly suspenseful, but it does contain some decent action scenes, and one fight scene is really good.
“Parker” (Let’s give it a respectable score of six.) definitely is not a candidate for the Action Film Hall of Fame, nor will it win any awards for originality, but it is entertaining enough to provide action fans with a sufficient violence fix. And if Parker comes back in another film, I probably will go to see it.