In the new crime thriller “Parker,” Jason Statham’s high-end heister demands only one thing of mates and marks alike: do exactly what he asks. No questions, no debate, no one gets hurt. He is literal — and lethal — on the subject.
One particularly nasty confrontation with mob types who dare to disagree gives you a sense of the tone. I’m pretty sure Parker breaks nearly all of a human’s 206 bones.
Through he’s equally adept with guns and knives, it’s the panache Parker brings to the bare-knuckle beatings — fashion-forward suits and starched white shirts — that make women swoon. Certainly longtime love Claire (Emma Booth) and beautiful, broke Palm Beach real estate agent Leslie (Jennifer Lopez) are smitten.
Perhaps director Taylor Hackford, who has set aside all restraint on the violence front for “Parker,” offered to pick up the cleaning tab. In addition to splattering all manner of apparel, Hackford has spilled so much red stuff on so many surfaces that while the movie won’t stand among his best work — see “Ray” or “An Officer and a Gentleman” for that — it ranks as his bloodiest.
In a time when the violence in movies is increasingly under fire, “Parker” stands as one of those films that would be virtually nothing without it. Violence defines the main man, drives the action, shapes the story, taints the relationships and begs the question, why bother to make a film like this in the first place?
The answer is found in the cult of popularity that already surrounds the character and the off-limits appeal of the smart, sardonic thief first concocted by novelist Donald E. Westlake. Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin has rendered a faithful adaptation of “Flashfire,” one of the 24 novels filled with Parker’s meticulous schemes and personal machinations.
The character’s brutality has always been somewhat mitigated by his Robin Hood-esque code of ethics — steal from the rich, help those who help you, punish those who cross you. And Statham has a way of taking the sting out of the rough stuff, which he has become very good at executing, with wry asides, often in Guy Ritchie films. It comes in handy here, since that is Parker’s style as well.
The movie hangs on a series of elaborately staged stings — like the Ohio State Fair, which opens the film with a crush of humanity, pig races and beauty queens. As if that weren’t carnival enough, there are so many costumes and charades required of Parker’s crew to make off with the cash that in another movie they’d be Broadway bound. It’s the kind of dense-with-detail scenes that Hackford, working with director of photography James Michael Muro (“Crash”), loves to make hay with, and he does.
As so often happens in Parker’s world, despite all his planning something goes wrong. Though he’s technically running the show, he’s really the outsider. The other bad guys answer to Melander, played by Michael Chiklis, who is scary no matter which side of the shield he’s on. Ross (Clifton Collins Jr.) is a nervous type and Carlson (Wendell Pierce) is a bit too laid back. But it is Hardwicke (Micah Hauptman), the spoiled nephew of a Chicago mob boss, who decides he doesn’t have to follow all of Parker’s instructions.
That is precisely what puts Parker in such a black mood on the getaway. Even the possibility of another score — $50 million in jewels begging to be stolen in Palm Beach — doesn’t interest him. The conversation ends with Parker left for dead. One tomato farmer and one trip to the ER later and he is on the road to revenge, which will keep the movie’s motor running.
It’s not about the money, it’s the principle — Parker explains during an unexplained backyard barbecue with his mentor Hurley (Nick Nolte). This is only one of several “huh?” moments. But I’ve found it’s best not to over-think things too much in movies like this.
Though Lopez gets equal billing, her real estate agent doesn’t enter the picture until the mayhem is well underway. She was a sweetheart on “American Idol” and she’s a sweetheart here, and I’m not being facetious. There is something so inherently likable about Lopez on screen that it’s easy to forget that she doesn’t so much become the characters as they become her. It works well enough for Leslie, an easy foil for Parker’s toughness, and gosh, willing to strip down if she must to prove she is not wearing a wire.
Leslie is 40, divorced, living with her overbearing mom (an amusing Patti LuPone), but we’re not here to deal with Leslie’s issues. And she’s smart enough to realize it. Soon she’s signed on to help Parker settle that old score with Melander, get a cut of the spoils and perhaps a little romance on the side. It’s Palm Beach, so there is glitz and there are boats, but mostly there is more blood.
I should mention that by this time, Parker has been knifed, beaten and shot multiple times, so much so that there are moments he can barely walk. Mind you, it doesn’t dent his sex appeal, but if you’re going to saturate a film with so much violence, at least it’s nice to see an action hero — or antihero — actually feeling the pain.