Starring two eye-catching actors, Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez, and directed with cool efficiency by Taylor Hackford, “Parker” starts with a bang and keeps going until its somewhat anti-climatic finale.
Of course, “frills” would include anything beyond rudimentary characters and a plot evincing some logic. Well, you can’t have everything.
But to return to the original point, any action film, especially those released in January and February, that doesn’t insult your intelligence and delivers scenes that quicken the pulse shouldn’t be regarded too lightly.
That’s harder to achieve than it may look.
The filmmakers’ first smart move came in their choice of material. The movie derives from one of 24 books by the late novelist and screenwriter Donald E. Westlake about a career criminal and thief he called Parker. Indeed Westlake was such prolific author of thrillers that this particular series was penned under the pseudonym Richard Stark.
The novels mix two crime genres, the caper and revenge melodrama. For Parker is extremely adept at engineering heists of considerable difficulty. What he isn’t as proficient in is choosing his associates.
Statham, whose English accent the film never bothers to explain, plays Parker as a steely-eyed, taciturn man, probably with a military background. He nicely commands the screen while doing very little.
He communicates a no-nonsense business-like approach to crime, which he views as a money-making enterprise where one must exert total control, putting the least amount of lives at risk while exacting the largest possible reward.
For Lopez this is an unlikely role. While one of the great beauties of cinema, surprisingly she’s not going to get this guy. Parker begins the story with a girlfriend (played a bit wanly by Australian native Emma Booth), and since he believes in nothing if not loyalty, well, sorry, Jen.
Instead Lopez must play a character, in this case a woman of breathtaking amorality who wants in on the caper since nothing else is going on in her life. She describes herself as “divorced, pushing 40, stuck with my mom — and it doesn’t look like she’ll be pushing off any time soon.”
Good enough reasons in the land of Parker.
The film also contains one of the most erotic strip teases in a long while. When Parker first meets Lopez’s real estate broker Leslie, he pretends to be a Texas oil man looking for a house on the island of West Palm Beach, Florida.
What he’s really looking for though is a gang of thieves who double crossed him on a recent robbery gone sour in Ohio. They left him for dead on a lonely country road. All he knows is that they’re in Palm Beach and plan to rob something or somebody.
So Leslie shows him around. While she does so, he is able to figure out at least where the gang is holed up. And she is able to figure out he’s no Texas oil man but rather a guy up to no good.
When she makes her suspicions known to him, blithely risking her life in so doing, she demands that he make her his partner in crime. But first he asks her to take off her clothes: He needs to see if she’s wearing a wire.
She strips down to panties and bra, then is forced to turn around, a scenic tour of Jennifer Lopez as it were.
Statham plays this as if the possibility of a wire is Parker’s only reason for asking her to strip. From the audience reaction at the press screening, they saw other possibilities. Perhaps even Parker does too but he doesn’t act on them. He has his girl.
That girlfriend, by the way, is the daughter of Parker’s best friend and something of a mentor, Hurley, played by nicely disheveled Nick Nolte. The relationship between him and Parker, and for that matter between him and the gang that betrays them both and some mobsters in Chicago, is sketchy at best.
The film, written by John J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”), doesn’t waste much time on exposition. It begins with a heist at the Ohio State Fair that turns deadly when one self-entitled member of the gang (Micah Hauptman) doesn’t stick to the plan.
Swiftly, the gang ditches Parker, who they believe is dead, and just as swiftly he’s out of his hospital bed — much too grievously wounded to do any of the things he does for the remainder of the movie — and trails them all the way to Florida.
The Chicago mob, aware of his movements but not his location, sends hit men after Hurley and his daughter, forcing them on the lam. Then after Parker’s presence in Palm Beach becomes known, killers are after him too.
This is more than enough to keep action flowing and ambushes an ever-present danger. Hackford tips you off to one of the latter when he pushes the camera too close to an actor, a sure sign an assassin lurks just out of sight.
This is a real lapse by the director since it momentarily makes Parker look awfully dumb not to realize the danger he’s in. The film does the same thing to the bad guys though when they all go to pick up pizzas at one point.
While their collective absence does allow Parker easy access to their hideout, where he can start his sabotage of their equipment, it does make you wonder how many bad guys it takes to pick up pizza.
Like I said earlier, best to shift your brain into neutral while “Parker” goes into overdrive.
The film is technically proficient and benefits greatly from terrific actors in supporting roles. Such as Michael Chiklis as the head bad guy, Clifton Collins, Jr. as its muscle and Wendell Pierce as the steady, observant one.
Not to mention Broadway legend Patti LuPone in the role of Leslie’s Cuban-American mother. She quickly proves she too belongs in the land of Parker.
Opens: January 25, 2013 (FilmDistrict)
Production companies: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Alexander/Mitchell Prods., Sierra, Incentive Filmed Entertainment in association with Anvil Films present a Current Entertainment production
Cast: Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce, Nick Nolte, Micah Hauptman, Clifton Collins, Jr., Bobby Cannavale, Patti LuPone
Director: Taylor Hackford
Screenwriter: John J. McLaughlin
Based on the novel by: Donald E. Westlake
Producers: Les Alexander, Steve Chasman, Taylor Hackford, Sidney Kimmel, Jonathan Mitchell
Executive producers: Stratton Leopold, Brad Luff
Director of photography: J. Michael Muro
Production designer: Missy Stewart
Music: David Buckley
Costume designer: Melissa Bruning
Editor: Mark Warner
R rating, 118 minutes