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Statham gets the job done in 'Parker'
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

All hail St. Statham, savior of the movie season! OK, maybe that's a bit of an overstatement. But I'll admit to being partial to Jason Statham, the butt-kicking Brit who's been making relatively generic and sometimes outrageous action movies resonate more than they would have without him for more than a decade now. The good news at the end of a rather brutally bad movie month is that Statham's latest, "Parker," is not only a very good vehicle for the star; it's a pretty damn good crime movie overall.

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Genre mavens of a certain disposition had reason to be pretty concerned about how this particular Statham vehicle would turn out. "Parker" is based on a novel in the popular series by ace crime writer Donald E. Westlake. The books, which Westlake wrote under the name Richard Stark, are the chronicles of a particularly steely and efficient master criminal, and they're fantastic: sleek, detailed, unsentimental, brimming with unsettling brutality and nasty twists and anchored by one of the most memorable anti-heroes in modern literature, genre or not. Prior movie attempts at nailing the Parker character cinematically have been mixed. Frankly, this picture too, scripted by John J. McLaughlin from the Stark novel "Flashfire," softens Parker around the edges a bit, and it accommodates Statham by making him British with no backstory, the better for the actor to keep acting with his native accent. (The character is obliged to impersonate a Texas oil millionaire for a spell, and does so pretty badly, and the movie wisely makes a sly joke of it.) It helps that the wisecracks Parker delivers in this incarnation are pretty good ones (his answer to the question "How do you sleep at night?" is particularly sharp), but it helps even more that the movie doesn't overload him with them.

The picture is refreshingly faithful to the novel's plotline, and more importantly, to making sure that the title character's revenge after the inevitable double-cross is depicted in brutally satisfying  set pieces. After getting burned on a carnival-fairground heist whose originators were merely pulling the job to raise seed money for a bigger one, Parker is left for dead and pulls off a terrific tough-guy resurrection, and after making sure his girl and her father (an old pro who got him in on the fairground job to begin with) are out of harm's way, a big job in and of itself, he goes after his ex-partners. They've settled in the ritzy environs of West Palm Beach, Fla., where they aim to pull off what looks to be an impossible jewel heist. With the help of a broke real estate agent, he aims to crash their party, even as a mob assassin from Chicago aims to put him out of commission for good.

Director Taylor Hackford's certainly had his ups and downs but he always seems energized when working with down-and-dirty material. He doesn't shy away from the material's less reputable aspects: When the time comes for him to stage a hotel suite smash-em-up between Parker and the aforementioned would-be assassin, he pulls out all the stops, and it is one nasty scene. Statham stomps and chomps through all his action scenes with spectacular vigor while never losing his cool, and Jennifer Lopez, believe it or not, is better than credible as his skeptical and then smitten eventual accomplice. The rest of the supporting cast rocks out, including Michael Chiklis as the jewel-thief mastermind and Bobby Cannavale as the Florida cop with an eye for Lopez's character. Some of the human-interest interactions are a little on the goofy side at times, but when it comes down to serving bloody revenge with no holds barred, "Parker," like its lead character, really gets the job done.

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Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.
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