Film review: Parker

What happens when a professional thief gets betrayed by his partners and left for dead in a ditch?  Most everyone else would find a new line of work, but not Parker.  He wants his cut — and he’ll stop at nothing to get it.

Parker comes from a series of novels and short stories by the late Donald Westlake, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  When I first saw the trailer, I assumed this was a remake of the 1967 film Point Blank with Lee Marvin, taken from the novel The Hunter.  (As an aside: an old school friend of mine, Duane Epstein, will shortly release a biography of Marvin titled Point Blank.) That film was remade with Mel Gibson in 1999 as Payback, a flawed but stylish noir piece that is one of Gibson’s better films.

This film, however, comes from the novel Flashfire, which has a different plot but the same basic betrayed-and-left-for-dead setup.  Jason Statham plays Parker, who wants revenge on a quartet of criminals who tried to kill him when he wouldn’t give back his cut to set up a big score in Florida.  Instead of the stylish cynicism, artistic cinematography, and snappy dialogue of Payback or Point Blank, though, Parker has the feel of a paint-by-numbers heist flick. While the action is well crafted, the outcome is never in doubt, and Statham is the same kind of relentlessly violent protagonist he is in every one of his movies.

Nick Nolte isn’t given much to do, and Emma Booth only marginally more.  Jennifer Lopez has a more substantial role as a down-on-her-luck real-estate agent who senses a break, and plays the part well — but the character seems more in the way of the story than integral to it. Michael Chiklis and Micah Hauptman have the most to do as villains, but the script allows only Hauptman to present any kind of depth to his character.  It doesn’t matter; they’re set piece villains used to provide targets for Statham’s vengeance.  Patty LuPone has fun in a smaller role, and Carlos Carrasco comes closest to finding the style of Payback, let alone Point Blank.

In the end — which takes three different climaxes to reach, by the way — Parker is nothing special, but not a bad popcorn flick if you keep expectations low.  Its best feature is the dearth of any worthwhile new films released this month so far to compete with it.  At my local theater, it was either this, Movie 43, or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.   It’s very violent, and occasionally gruesome, so the R rating should well be heeded (also for a brief bit of gratuitous nudity).  It’s not for kids or teens, or anyone who doesn’t want to see blood smeared all over several rooms.