“Parker” roars into a dull January and enlivens the movie landscape, and thank the action-movie gods, because we needed a little something to wake us from our winter slumber.
Based on a novel in a series by Richard Stark, the alter ego of the late, great Donald E. Westlake, this is a heist-and-payback movie. But it’s made with such skill and smarts that it stands above such eye-rolling blow-’em-up fare as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand,” its main competition at the box office.
As played by the ever-stoic Jason Statham (the “Transporter” and “Expendables” films), Parker is more antihero than hero: He operates on the wrong side of the law, but he has a complicated code of ethics.
He will steal — and steal quite unremorsefully — but only from people who can afford it, he says. He doesn’t go looking to hurt innocents. But all bets are off if you don’t follow directions, and woe unto anyone who dares to cheat him.
A double-cross is precisely what happens in the opening scenes of “Parker”: A crew carries out a daring robbery at the Ohio State Fair. The heist does not run smoothly, and after their escape, the second in command, the menacing Melander (Michael Chiklis of “The Shield” and “Vegas”), orders Parker to turn over his share of the take to help finance the next job, a biggie.
Like any sensible individual who hears those words, Parker is skeptical. So he refuses and gets shot, robbed and dumped at the side of the road for his trouble.
The rest of the movie follows what happens when Parker recovers and decides to get his money back from — and revenge on — the guys who left him for dead. The road to payback leads him to Palm Beach County, Fla., where the movie was partially filmed, and into the orbit of Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a real estate agent dying for her first commission.
Directed by Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “Proof of Life”), Parker is not without its absurdities. Melander is resourceful, but could he and his gang really commandeer a West Palm Beach fire truck? Patti Lupone goes a bit over-the-top as Lopez’s super-ethnic mama, and Lopez has some ditzy moments, courtesy of the script by John J. McLaughlin (“Hitchcock,” “Black Swan”).
But Statham turns out to be a good choice to play the taciturn thief. He looks like the sort of guy who stands a good chance of getting out of any tight corner, even if he’s unarmed. Even the people who griped about Tom Cruise being cast as the towering Jack Reacher will have to admit Statham fits nicely in Parker’s shoes.