Patton Oswalt once opined that Jason Statham can make any movie better. He is not wrong. For those who have succumbed to Mr. Stathams particular appeal as a cool and deadly action hero, his charisma is an umbrella over the rougher patches of all but the most cretinous scripts. In PARKER, he has found a script that is better than average for his films, and a director in Taylor Hackford who allows for an eccentric attention to character details, as well as one who isnt afraid to show the sloppy awfulness of committing murder.
And there are murders aplenty, many of them committed by Stathams eponymous character, though this is no killing machine. The first glimpse of Parker sends that message, in that he is in disguise as a priest, labeling one preparing to knock over that most wholesome of American institutions, a state fair. Sure, Parker is a thief, but one who is a solidly decent man, other than that peculiar moral foible. He steals only from those who can afford it, and kills only those who deserve it. His bona fides as a good bad guy are established as he talks down the hysterical security guard about to have his head blown off by one of Parkers associates. That the associate is a clown with a gun is a nice subversion of the Americana theme. That the associate is played with semi-psychotic brio by Michael Chiklis signals all too soon that although the complicated caper will go off without too much of a hitch, things will go south for Parker. This is, of course, the finest of Statham tropes: one man bent on revenge against impossible odds, in this case the Chicago mob.
Yet the action is in New Orleans and West Palm Beach, which makes perfect visual sense, because the colors are brighter and the scenery far more lush. Parker, who fights his way out of a car full of thugs with guns, survives being shot, stabbed, and otherwise interfered with in unpleasant way without ever once losing his edge. The delight is watching him, even while bleeding, efficiently outthinking everyone around him while never breaking a sweat. At least not a sweat over the sweet maneuvers that allow him to steal cars, rob armored cars, and masquerade as a Texan, complete with pointy-toed boots crafted of something exotic and possibly endangered.
As the tale progresses, it becomes clear that Parker, and his creator, the novelist Donald E. Westlake, sees himself as the champion of the working class, jousting with the classes that made their fortunes from crime, and who prey upon the desperate poor and middle-class.
Dont worry, theres not a lot of preaching going on here. There is, however, a whole lot of plot involving a fiendishly clever jewel heist, a down-on-her-luck, but game, real-estate agent (Jennifer Lopez), and Parkers one true love (Emma Booth), who is his match in every department. Theres time for both nice moments of family comedy and drama between Lopez and her characters mother (Patti LuPone), and a an adorable extended cameo by Bobby Canavale as the cop smitten with, but spurned by, Lopez. Even Statham is given the chance to be something more than an automaton as he does the all but superhuman in his quest for justice, and to stay alive no matter what or who is thrown at him.
Hackford respects story as well as character, and he takes the action genre in a slightly different direction with no harm done. In fact, the sequence in the getaway car, where Parker is about to make the moral decision, but not the safe one, Hackford uses the camera to give Parkers POV, with long, unsettling takes of Chiklis stolid face looming like an evil moonpie in front of the unflinching lens.
PARKER is not masterpiece, but its fun, its clever, and it manages several surprises as Stathams cinematic persona becomes a man of brains as well as muscle. For Statham fans, its a must-see, for those who arent, its perfectly alright to pass it by.
For more on how Mr. Oswalt would use Mr. Statham to improve even a top-notch film, heres the interview that explains it at the end of our chat.