Parker (Jason Statham) is a professional thief who lives by a personal code of ethics: Don't steal from people who can't afford it and don't hurt people who don't deserve it. But on his latest heist, his crew double crosses him, steals his stash, and leaves him for dead. Determined to make sure they regret it, Parker tracks them to Palm Beach, playground of the rich and famous, where the crew is planning their biggest heist ever. Donning the disguise of a rich Texan, Parker takes on an unlikely partner, Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a savvy insider, who's short on cash, but big on looks, smarts and ambition. Together, they devise a plan to hijack the score, take everyone down and get away clean. Also starring Michael Chiklis.
The great crime novelist Donald E. Westlake was so prolific that he required several pen names to attach to books that covered all the writing styles at his command. Much loved by many was Richard Stark, Westlake's moniker for the author who wrote about a deliciously enigmatic professional thief named Parker. Parker has shown up in several movie adaptations, but Parker is the first to identify him with that name. Even though hulking bulldog Jason Statham plays him with the brute force and inelegant craft that has made the actor such a predictable action hero, Parker neatly captures the essence of the man that Westlake/Stark painted on the page. Parker is ostensibly based on the Parker novel Flashfire, though its plot is essentially the same kind of revenge tale all the other Parker character movies have been. After a well-planned heist (a terrific sequence staged at the Ohio State Fair), Parker's cohorts double-cross him and leave him for dead. But he recovers like the superhuman criminal hero he is and goes on a laser-focused quest to get back his share of the score--nothing more, nothing less. If it so happens that he kills a bunch of worse bad guys and ends up with far more than was owed him along the way, well, Parker won't complain. Veteran director Taylor Hackford more than carries the weight for both Parker and Statham, crafting set pieces and entertaining crime fantasies right up to the inevitable happy ending for our felonious yet principled protagonist. Parker makes his way from Ohio to New Orleans to Palm Beach, among other places, in tracking down the gang that jacked him. Each setting has a distinct sense of place, and we root for Parker in exactly the right way to show that bad guys can often be good even when they're doing terrible things. The Palm Beach third act is first rate, not least because of Jennifer Lopez, who plays a lonely real-estate agent who haplessly teams with Parker for some less than predictable shenanigans. Lopez seems to be hoping for the same kind of impact she made in Steven Soderbergh's terrific Elmore Leonard adaptation Out of Sight way back in 1998. Though Parker is not nearly as great a movie, Lopez truly shines. The same goes for an interesting and committed supporting cast that includes Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Patti LuPone, Bobby Cannavale, and a thoroughly ravaged-looking Nick Nolte. Lots of movies have made heroes out of criminals--yay! the bad guy wins!--and Parker makes a fine entry to the world of violent, fun fantasies in which crooks come out on top. Statham's line featured in the Parker trailer pretty much describes his ethos as well as the movie's slick take on crime-does-pay: "I don't steal from people who can't afford it, and I don't hurt people who don't deserve it." Would that all Hollywood action movies could carry the same credo. --Ted Fry