The plot of the new caper movie “Parker” may seem similar in some ways to the one for the quirky 1999 crime thriller “Payback,” a Mel Gibson film far more popular on TV than it was in theaters. The two movies were each based on novels by the late Donald Westlake (published under the pen name Richard Stark), novels about the same character.
Actually “Parker” is even more a film for adults than was “Payback,” and it is less comic and less limited by its first-person point of view. But in each story the central character is a gifted brawler seeking to collect payment for a crime he committed in association with mobsters.
In the new movie, likable Jason Statham plays the title character, a skilled robber who claims to never steal from those who can’t afford the loss. As the movie opens he is robbing the Ohio State Fair’s counting house, helped by four wise guys with Chicago gang connections.
Parker soothes a nervous guard, telling the man that all will go well, that the tension will soon be over and that life will return to its comfortable normalcy. But because of the tardiness of one of the four crooks, a fire intended to distract law enforcement has reached several propane tanks and a civilian has been killed.
So right away we learn to like the calming Parker and to distrust the less professional and careful foursome. Director Taylor Hackford methodically goes along giving us reasons to dislike all the characters who must later be eliminated by our anti-hero.
For example, moments before the film’s climax the African-American member of the quartet is shown to be interested in raping a Florida real estate agent named Leslie (Jennifer Lopez). And that’s it for him, then. Parker can off him. The man has shown himself to deserve punishment.
The foursome’s leader, played by t.v. actor Michael Chiklis, starts the trouble as the thieves escape from the Columbus fair grounds. He insists that they keep back all of the proceeds of that robbery, about a million dollars, to finance a bigger job in Palm Beach Florida. Parker won’t agree to this, and so the others try to kill him and kick his body into a pond.
But Parker is found breathing and is taken to a hospital by a truck farmer (who will later be rewarded for his good deed, just as the crooks are punished for their wrongs). Statham’s character rouses himself from the emergency room bed and makes a complicated escape, stealing car after car, in part to avoid the police and in part to avoid the foursome while gaining intelligence about them. He warns his friends of possible impending trouble.
Then, with a nest egg swiped from a payroll loan office, he goes to the Sunshine State and begins speculating on the target his former comrades are likely aiming to grab. He calls for a real estate agent to show him around, meets Leslie, and identifies the foursome’s recently purchased hide-out. His Realtor pal also tips him off about the jewels that are about to be auctioned to benefit charity.
But then a Chicago hit man comes looking for Parker. And penniless Leslie figures out what Parker is doing and offers to help him for a cut. Hackford uses Lopez well, and Statham gives us a reason to follow the remarkably fast series of events leading up to the imaginative heist and succeeding high jack attempt.
Unlike TV crime shows, “Parker” lets the characters build by showing them in meaningful action, lots of it. Consequently there isn’t anything not to like about the movie. And there is plenty here for adults to enjoy.