Taylor Hackford’s Parker has a number of things going for it; Jason Statham playing the title character, a solid ensemble cast which includes actors like Michael Chiklis and Wendell Pierce, and taut action scenes that resemble anything but comic book violence. But despite the strong talent involved, Parker turns out to be a big letdown as it brings nothing new to the crime thriller genre, and it is not likely to stay with you long after the credits have finished. There are things about the movie worth applauding, but in the end it is largely forgettable.
The story starts with a robbery at a county fair with our protagonist Parker (Statham), dressing up as a priest and his accomplices dressed up as clowns. While he shows no remorse for being a professional thief, he does take the time to calm his hostages down even as he willfully steals from them. There’s even a moment where he calms down a guard who begins hyperventilating, reassuring him that everything’s going to be alright and that he just might get lucky with his girlfriend because of this. It’s no surprise that Parker comes off as a slightly better person than his thieving colleagues, and that’s even before they pull a double cross and leave him for dead. Once that happens, Parker is out for bloody revenge.
Parker is a character that came from the literary mind of Donald E. Westlake, and he is in many ways the perfect antihero. He is an unrepentant criminal, but he also has a strong code of ethics which he never ceases to follow: he doesn’t steal from the poor, and he never ever hurts innocent people. In a lot of ways we have no business rooting for Parker because of his criminal activities, but when it comes to movies like this we cannot help but be on his side. In a story filled with criminals of all kinds, at least this one has a brain.
When it comes to Jason Statham, usually what you see is what you get. Many complain that he plays the same character in each film he’s in, and while that may be true, Parker is a really good fit for him. Statham is one of those actors you can count on to play a true antihero, and there is no fakery to his bad ass nature (the man does many of his own stunts). Still, the character of Parker has been played more memorably in the past by Lee Marvin in Point Blank and Mel Gibson in Payback, and both actors also had better material to work with than Statham does here.
Also, Statham ends up doing one of the worst Texan accents ever when he tries to go undercover as some rich guy looking at real estate in Miami. Whether that accent was done badly on purpose or otherwise, it just sucks you out of the moment and makes his performance comical in an unintentional way.
The screenplay by John J. McLaughlin, which is based on Westlake’s book Flashfire, is filled with a lot of cliché ridden dialogue, and it’s painful to see actors as good Chiklis, Pierce or even Nick Nolte having to say words and sentences we have heard way too many times in so many different movies. Parker also features a number of scenes that definitely don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. Now, normally other films can get away with this because you don’t see the plot holes in the story until after the movie’s over, but when you see them appear as the movie unfolds before you, then you have a serious problem.
It’s a shame too because Hackford, who has directed actors to great performances in films like Dolores Claiborne, An Officer and a Gentleman and Ray, does his best with a strong cast. In addition to Statham, he gets a truly villainous performance out of Chiklis, whose character Melander is an irredeemable bastard, and Nick Nolte gives his scenes as Parker’s boss and father figure Hurley the strong gravity that they need to work (and that’s even though Nolte looks like he’s about to keel over at any given moment). But the most surprising performance comes from Jennifer Lopez who, after a stint on American Idol, is actually quite believable as a down on her luck woman who sees Parker as her way out of a dissatisfying life.
The one thing Parker does have going for it are its action scenes, which have a visceral quality to them that packs quite a wallop. Hackford wisely doesn’t make Parker a superhuman character but instead someone who hurts and bruises as badly as the rest of us do. Statham endures a lot of painful moments in the movie, which include jumping out of a moving SUV and hanging off of a balcony, and only an actor like him can make you believe that the character could recuperate from his injuries and come back to kick ass in a believable way. There’s also a hell of a fight scene between Statham and Daniel Bernhardt that has them practically demolishing a condo as they try to demolish one another, and it makes for the movie’s most exciting moment.
In the end though, Parker offers us the same kind of story of the antihero that we have seen done a hundred times before and done better. We all know how these stories play out and we have been down this road far too many times before, ultimately ending up with a movie filled with some brutal action sequences but not much of a story or characters to make it stand out from so many others like it. While Statham fans may find much to enjoy here, others will likely be bored or wish that they had saved their money for something else.