Like many prolific popular genre novelists, the late Donald E. Westlake published under a variety of pseudonyms; although known mostly as a mystery writer, he also dabbled in other forms, like science fiction and film, including the screenplay for "The Grifters," based on the Jim Thompson novel. His best books, written as Richard Stark, however, deal with a professional criminal, known only as Parker, a lone wolf who constantly finds himself the target of other criminals as well as the police. Smart, hard, and relentless, Parker always triumphs against overwhelming odds and a multitude of enemies.
The novels move with such urgency and the character displays so much paradoxical appeal that they seem a natural for the screen. The first Parker film, and still the best, "Point Blank," appeared way back in1967 and starred the memorable Lee Marvin; that flick, remade as "Payback" in 1999, starred Mel Gibson (to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Mel, you're no Lee Marvin). Featuring the British action star Jason Statham in the title role and based on a different Stark novel, the new movie, "Parker," follows much the same plot as its predecessors.
It begins with an elaborate caper, an armed robbery of more than $1 million in cash from an unusual source, the daily take at the Ohio State Fair, a setting that provides the opportunity for some nicely contrasting images of people participating in the various games, contests, and amusements, and a gang of thieves holding workers at gunpoint while emptying a series of safes. Disguised as a priest, Parker, who orchestrates the immensely complicated job, calms the frightened employees and avoids any bloodshed. In one of the many flashbacks that interrupt and thicken the straightforward plot, he articulates his code: no stealing from ordinary people and no violence against the innocent.
After the success of the dazzling scheme, everything, as usual, falls apart. Melander (Michael Chiklis), the leader of Parker's four accomplices, recruited by his girlfriend's father (Nick Nolte), demands that Parker accompany them on another big job, a $50 million jewel robbery overseen by the mob. When Parker refuses, the gang shoots him and leaves him for dead.
In keeping with Hollywood's skill at process, the best sequences in the film show exactly how Parker manages to survive his terrible injuries and track down his enemies. Clever and opportunistic, he hotwires a series of automobiles, recognizes the kind of guy likely to possess weapons he can steal, shoots a number of people, and works his way across the country from Ohio to Palm Beach, where his erstwhile colleagues construct their elaborate caper. He plans to even the score and take their huge jewelry haul while he's at it.
With a false identity as a Texas oilman, in Palm Beach he meets a real estate agent, Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez), which not only opens up the possibility of a romantic complication, but also provides a guided tour of the lavish mansions of the fabulously wealthy. When not seeing the sights with Lopez, Parker concocts his own scheme and defends himself in a tremendously violent and gushingly bloody fight with an assassin.
Bookended by two big capers, with a terrific, straight-ahead charge in the middle, "Parker" never softens its intensity or slackens its pace. Even though its protagonist steals for a living, kills in cold blood when he must, and leaves a trail of the dead and wounded in his wake, he still inspires the audience to take his side: he wins them over through his sheer, dogged, indomitable dedication.
Much of the success of the movie derives from the performance of Jason Statham, a most convincing Parker, who maintains an icy control, displays great resourcefulness, and absorbs an amazing amount of punishment. He endures beatings, stabbings, shootings, loses gallons of blood, but never surrenders; in his own way a man of honor, he carries out his revenge as a matter of principle. Finally, the real measure of his strength derives not from the bullet holes, the stab wound in his chest, the knife through his hand, the four broken ribs, the constellation of contusions and lacerations, but from his resistance to Leslie Rodgers's advances: a man who can refuse Jennifer Lopez is really tough.