Donald E. Westlake’s Parker character has found his way out of pulpy novels and onto the big screen several times before, with varying degrees of success—most notably 1968’s Point Blank on the strong end, and 1999’s Mel Gibson vehicle Payback on the weak. Parker, starring Jason Statham as the single-named vengeance machine, takes its story from Westlake’s 2000 book Flashfire, though it grabs some establishing details from 1962’s The Hunter, the basis for the other two films. Statham stars as a thief with a moral code who gets double-crossed and left for dead by his crew. He reacts by exacting bloody, stylish, cucumber-cool revenge.
After a solidly entertaining heist at a state fair, Statham’s new team—led by a growling, inexplicably sweaty Michael Chiklis and abetted by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce—ask him to join a jewel heist, then decide to kill him when he refuses. Statham reacts as he does in pretty much every movie he’s in, coolly assessing the situation and discerning how best both to survive and deliver punishment. (Also how to deliver clever, gravelly quips.) He eventually tracks the crew with the aid of his crime-world mentor Nick Nolte, whose few scenes could have been summed up with a quick phone call. But Nolte isn’t as inessential as Jennifer Lopez: Though ostensibly the female lead, Lopez is so unimportant to Parker’s plot that she could almost be removed entirely without causing a hiccup. She plays a broke real-estate agent who, for reasons totally ridiculous yet laughably spelled out via a Lifetime Channel-level monologue (“I have a sister I haven’t spoken to in five years!”), decides she’s destined to help Statham carry out his plot. Though Lopez has no background or training in crime and seems mostly interested in hitting on him, Statham agrees—presumably for the purpose of having Jennifer Lopez in this movie.
Though Parker starts off fairly strong, the action gets more predictable as it meanders toward its conclusion. There’s a clever scene in which Statham—charming and bad-ass as always—dispatches some mob-connected baddies who’ve found his fake-ID supplier, but it’s followed by a rote hotel-room fight and a climactic battle that, while sprinkled with a couple of cleverly choreographed bouts, sticks to expected tropes. It’s admirable that Parker—directed by Best Director nominee Taylor Hackford, of Ray fame—would rather be Out Of Sight (or at least The Bank Job) than a by-the-numbers action movie like Taken, but in the end, it falls somewhere in the unmemorable space between.