By Chaz Lipp

Parker is actually a pretty weird hybrid, part action-thriller and part buddy comedy, only a little different from similar combinations of the past. Oscar-nominated director Taylor Hackford (Ray) isn’t the first to adapt the character, who first appeared in Donald Westlake’s 1962 novel The Hunter (which spawned a series of 19 additional novels), for the big screen. But seeing as it’s the only one I’ve personally seen, I have no point of reference for comparison. It’s overlong but entertaining, with a surprising amount of effective humor along the way.

Jason Statham stars as Parker, a professional thief with a strong ethical sense. If he says he’s going to do something, he does it without fail. And he doesn’t believe in harming innocents while on a job. When we first meet him at a crowded county fair, he’s disguised as a gray haired, bespectacled priest. He’s such a nice guy, he even stops to win a stuffed animal for a little girl. But he’s really up to no good, participating in a million-dollar robbery as part of a five-man crew.

While speeding away from the fair, crew member Melander (Michael Chiklis) proposes a follow-up job—a multi-million dollar jewel heist—that would potentially yield the crew a far larger take. Parker declines. Rather than having any loose ends running around, they shoot him and leave him for dead. It’s no spoiler to say that Parker manages to survive (with the help of a family of good Samaritans). He wants revenge and travels to Palm Beach to track down Melander and company, who are going forward with the planned jewel robbery.

There’s not much more to the plot. John J. McLaughlin’s screenplay keeps things pretty direct, with Parker disguising himself as Daniel Parmett, a Texas billionaire looking for real estate, as he searches for Melander’s crew. That’s where things go a little off kilter. Jennifer Lopez plays struggling real estate agent Leslie Rogers. After spending a little time showing Parker some premium properties, she’s not buying the good ol’ boy routine (to be fair, I can’t imagine anyone would—Statham doesn’t exactly sell the accent). She’s resourceful enough to do a little background checking and soon realizes she’s dealing with a crook. Partnering with Parker just might be her ticket out of the real estate business.

At first I didn’t think Lopez fit in with the no-nonsense approach of the movie’s first half. But then it hit me: with the amount of humor present in that first half (including a bizarre, squirm-inducing encounter Parker has with a cancer patient whose voice box has been removed), Parker wasn’t really no-nonsense to begin with. An offbeat sense of humor was there the whole time. Lopez turns in a fine semi-comic performance, managing to elicit a sympathetic reaction when it hits Leslie that Parker isn’t interested in her romantically. In fact, the scene in which Parker introduces her to his girlfriend, Claire (Emma Booth), is actually as ice-cold as we ever see the tough guy get.

As much as I enjoyed Parker, I think it might’ve worked better if 20 minutes or so had been trimmed from its two-hour running time, with Lopez being introduced and integrated earlier. I also wish that Chiklis and his crew members (Wendell Pierce, Clifton Collins Jr., and Michah Hauptman) had been a little better defined. They’re all actually funnier than menacing, but I’m not sure if director Hackford meant for it to come off that way. It’s not a bad combination, and Chiklis is actually pretty imposing (at times evoking his classic Vic Mackey from The Shield), but I feel maybe they should’ve leaned further in one direction or the other. Nick Nolte puts in what amounts to a cameo as the gloriously grizzled Hurley, Parker’s role model and father of Claire.

For fans of Jason Statham, come on—seeing Parker is a no-brainer. He may not be the most versatile actor around, but within his limited demonstrated range, he is as good here as anywhere. Without that vested interest, action fans in general may find themselves checking their watches about two-thirds in. Overall, however, it’s a pretty good time.

(Photos: FilmDistrict)
Chaz Lipp

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