Jason Statham in "Parker." (FilmDistrict )
One of the more prolific butt-kickers in recent years, Jason Statham has carved out a nice niche playing the antihero with a heart of gold. His characters may break the law from time to time, but they ultimately do the right thing, stop the bad guy, save the girl, crack a few jokes and look sharp doing it.
Statham's title role in the new crime thriller "Parker" (based on the Donald E. Westlake novel "Flashfire") finds the action hero up to his usual tricks, this time as a principled thief seeking revenge on his double-crossing crew. According to movie critics, it's standard-issue Statham — no more, no less.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey finds the film exceptionally bloody, writing, "In a time when the violence in movies is increasingly under fire, 'Parker' stands as one of those films that would be virtually nothing without it. Violence defines the main man, drives the action, shapes the story, taints the relationships and begs the question, why bother to make a film like this in the first place?"
The answer, Sharkey says, lies in the popularity of the Parker character, whose adventures fill 24 novels and whose demeanor Statham handles with aplomb. The actor "has a way of taking the sting out of the rough stuff, which he has become very good at executing, with wry asides."
Christy Lemire of Associated Press says Statham is "not exactly pushing himself outside his comfort zone. Parker is the kind of thief who lives by a civilized, self-imposed code — one he expects others to adhere to, as well. But this is the same character Statham always plays: quietly cool, dryly British, powerfully lethal." Of Statham's co-star Jennifer Lopez (as a struggling real estate agent who teams up with Parker), Lemire concludes, "playing weak and girlish isn't exactly her strong suit."
Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News says of the film, "It seems clear that [director Taylor] Hackford wanted to knock out a quick moneymaker, something that would not require much energy, but might allow everyone to pick up a nice tan." Although Statham is "appealingly wry but decidedly low-key," Weitzman adds that "a little more effort — from anyone — might be nice. … Nearly every choice, from the cheesy score to the jittery camerawork, suggests minimal ambitions."
Lou Leminick of the New York Post writes that " 'Parker' is watchable chiefly for Statham, who exudes effortless cool and excels in hand-to-hand combat, as well as demonstrating his skill at wielding some very unlikely weapons." Leminick is less taken with Lopez, snarking that "maybe she'd be better off commissioning a script for a sequel to her last successful vehicle (in 2002) and calling it 'Matron in Manhattan.' "
Finally, the New York Times' A.O. Scott suggests meeting the film halfway. He writes, " 'Parker' is an action movie, which means that it should be judged, first if not foremost, by the effectiveness of the scenes of fighting, chasing and shooting." In those areas, Scott adds, "Parker" acquits itself well, with an opening set piece that "provides a master class in how to balance chaos and coherence" and another sequence (Scott calls it a "bloody ballet") impressing with its inventiveness.
Scott adds that "sometimes — especially in the epically dreary cinematic month of January — the pleasures of craft can be more satisfying than the challenges of art."