Anyone who follows my writings regularly knows that I am a very big fan of the late, great Donald E. Westlake. I enjoy his work when he is writing a comic crime caper, and I equally enjoy it when he writes a dark, gritty tale. Parker is one of his most famous characters. Writing under the name “Richard Stark,” Westlake created an utterly amoral thief named Parker, who kills people whenever he judges he as to, and only avoids doing so if it would make for a nastier legal mess, not out of any moral notions.

Parker 02
Jason Statham as Parker

Casual murder is not his style, but if he has to do it, he will kill anyone to get his way. His actions are dictated purely by logic, not by emotions of any sort. And somehow, Donald E. Westlake took this utterly amoral figure and made him into a fascinating antihero.

We’ve seen Parker on screen several times. Point Blank is still perhaps the greatest adaptation of a Parker novel ever filmed, starring Lee Marvin as “Walker”. Payback, starring Mel Gibson as “Porter,” was also pretty good, although the (shorter) director’s cut is far better than the original theatrical version.

One thing has been common in every adaptation – nobody has been allowed to use the name “Parker.” And so when I found out about the new film Parker, I became very interested. Someone was finally allowed to use Parker’s name? What sort of sorcery was this? And then I found out the movie had been due to be released in October before being pushed back to January, which always a bad sign.

So, what is this movie? A gem to be embraced, or a crappy flick that’s being flushed out with the rest of the trash at a time of year when fewer people go to the cinema?

Well, it certainly isn’t the latter. Parker has some flaws, but overall it’s a terrific adaptation that left me very happy as a fan of the character. The story is simple but good. Parker is a thief, and on his latest score he is double-crossed by his partners when he refuses to reinvest his share of the loot for a second heist. They leave him for dead at the side of the road, but like all those horror movies where you’re supposed to make sure the monster is dead before driving away. Parker makes it to a hospital and decides to go after the men who betrayed him. And he isn’t coming back just for his 200 grand. He’s taking it all.

Jason Statham does a good job of playing a morally corrupt man – not as amoral as the character in Westlake’s books, but few audiences would want to see that anyway, so this change is understandable and not too drastically different from the original character. I like Statham, and he brings his personality to this flick. His sardonic sense of humor is the same kind we get from Parker. When asked how he can sleep at night, for example, he replies with a straight voice “I don’t drink coffee after seven.”

Statham wouldn’t be my first casting choice because of his accent. Parker is, after all, a very American character. But Statham does a good job in the role, and I’m glad the accent is never explained. Also laudable is that we don’t get a sob story about Parker’s abusive past growing up in Liverpool or anything like that. We find out very little about Parker’s past, and I liked this a lot.

Parker isn’t entirely amoral, and he shows some trace of emotion from time to time, but he tries to suppress it lest he show chinks in his armour, and that isn’t too bad of a change, character-wise. When he kills someone near the end, for instance, he scolds him for messing up his part of the original heist before doing the deed, which to me rang true to Parker.

Parker 03
Yee-hah: Jason Statham as Parker pretends to be a rich Texas oil mogul to get information from a grumpy real estate agent played by J-Lo.

But then we get Parker’s sort-of love interest, Jennifer Lopez. I’m sorry, but I just don’t find her a credible actress. The character she plays is fascinating – a real estate agent who is tired of playing by the rich people’s rules, showing them around and laughing at their jokes and avoiding sexual passes while trying to make a sale and earn her commission, all while being stuck in a dead-end job and living with her mother. But Lopez doesn’t bring this off. She’s rather whiny and annoying, and it doesn’t help that we only see three or four other employees.

Of these, I only remember two. One is your classic hot-chick-who’s-also-a-bitch. The other is nerdy (because she wears glasses) and not particularly attractive, but she’s nice to J-Lo. I forget what Lopez’s character is supposed to be called, but I never thought to myself anything other than “Oh, that’s Jennifer Lopez pretending to be a real estate agent.” It doesn’t help that Lopez almost ruins everything in the finale by showing up at the worst possible moment, and thanks to her acting it’s so obvious that she’s about to almost-ruin-everything that it nearly ruins the moment.

On the other hand, we do get a calculatingly titillating moment where Parker forces her to strip, which I think was supposed to be erotic but  really wasn’t. (And although we get a Gratuitous Tits scene, it ain’t Lopez showing ‘em and it’s done in a relatively subtle way, so the intrusion not as contemptible as it could’ve been.)

Director Taylor Hackford has proven that he can helm excellent films before, such as RayThe Devil’s Advocate, and Dolores Clairborne. He brings a level-headed direction style to Parker. Although we got some occasional shaky-cam, nobody will suffer a seizure, and it’s easy to tell what is going on on-screen. There’s plenty of onscreen violence, and it can be particularly brutal at times, such as when you see a knife slice through somebody’s hand and come out on the other side. (This is not a film for the squeamish.) Twice, Parker’s interactions leave him a bloody mess—he isn’t an unstoppable Luke Cage-like superhero. I liked this element of the movie a lot.

The music is terrific—as film music. It’s a style of music that I would never listen to in my free time, but it’s energetic and helps drive the action scenes without overshadowing them, and that’s precisely what an action movie score is supposed to do.

The supporting performances are generally excellent, with one minor complaint. Nick Nolte shows up, but his voice is so soft yet throaty that I wish he’d spoken a little louder. Apart from that, we get some really good performances. Michael Chiklis is particularly good as the mastermind who engineers the double-cross.

Parker is not a great film, but it’s plenty of fun and about as good an adaptation as we could expect from modern-day Hollywood, which really likes tearing good characters to pieces. (Have you heard about Jennifer Garner  playing a sexy young American Miss Marple in a Disney remake? Ew.)

I haven’t read Flashfire, the novel on which Parker is based, so I cannot compare it to the source material, but the story has enough cleverness to identify it as a Donald E. Westlake creation. (The film even concludes with a dedication to Westlake, which was very nice to see.) The action scenes are terrific, such as the opening heist and Parker’s fight with a professional assassin. Jason Statham does a good job in the title role, and the changes to Parker’s character are not too drastic—not a bad batting average for Hollywood.

Overall, it’s a good movie. I liked it and would see it again.