(Taylor Hackford, 2013)
The best parts of Parker are the procedural sequences. The opening scene, for example, depicts a well-planned heist by a gang of five men. They steal the cash from the safes at a State Fair on a busy summer day through a combination of brute force, distraction and precision timing. In the aftermath, four of the men doublecross another and leave him for dead at the side of the road.
He is Parker, he is played by Jason Statham, and he is, of course, not dead when they drive away. The rest of the film depicts his execution of a plan to take revenge upon his erstwhile partners.
He follows them to Palm Beach in Florida, teams up with a desperate and cash-strapped Estate Agent (Jennifer Lopez) to discover what the job they're planning there is, and makes moves to interfere. Meanwhile, the Chicago Mob, discomfited by some of Parker's activities, have sent men after him and his loved ones.
Parker is an adaptation of the 19th Parker novel by Richard Stark, and the first adaptation of one of the post-Comeback novels (there was a 13 year gap between novels 16 and 17 in the sequence). Statham isn't quite right for the role, but he's close enough. Parker is a career criminal, relentlessly professional in his approach to his livelihood, and capable of staggeringly brutal violence, and Statham has played characters very much like this in the past. He might be too short and too British for the role, but his screen persona is so strong and well-defined, that it stops mattering a few minutes into the film. He carries the sense of danger that Parker (in the novels) exudes around with him, and has a focus, intensity and confidence that suits the character well.
However, another joy of the Parker books is the world Stark creates, filled as it is with a series of shady thieves, killers and deceitful femme fatales, all of them moving through a delirious pulp underworld ruled over by "the Outfit", a version of the Mob who Parker frequently crosses in his efforts to remain independent. Parker fudges this - the universe of some of Tarantino's crime films is closer - replacing it with a more blandly glossy realist version of the daylit noir world seen in so many modern crime films.
And yet; the film is efficient and entertaining in its telling of this familiar tale, as Statham bludgeons his way through obstacles, steals cars and makes plans. The villains are nicely cast - a sweaty Michael Chiklis presiding over a gang including Wendell Pierce and Clifton Collins Jr. - the action scenes direct and nasty, particularly a deadly Bourne-style fight with an assassin in a hotel room, and it all looks handsome in an anonymous, vaguely stately manner.
Hackford may be so comfortable with the procedural elements because he has himself always been a vaguely anonymous professional; always competent but rarely acclaimed, just like the smooth, disciplined Parker. He draws good work from Lopez here; she is the human heart of the film, funny and touching as a woman nearing middle age whose life hasn't worked out how she planned.