Parker (Jason Statham) is a character based on Donald Westlake’s Richard Stark novels. He’s an accomplished thief, but with his own code of ethics, which Parker explains to the hostages in the movie’s first heist: We don’t take from people who need it, and we don’t hurt anybody who doesn’t deserve it. Of course, money belonging to companies or corporations is somehow once removed from “real” people (“They have insurance, anyway.”) And the threat of personal violence is real after any foolish attempt at noncooperation.
Well, what they do get right is how very frightened ordinary people would be with a real gun suddenly thrust in their face by a real robber. The most touching scene in the movie is when Parker comforts a sobbing, freaked-out security guard, and assures him that everything will be fine.
That is, everything’s fine until the gang gets in the getaway van. There, it seems, Parker’s cohorts have all decided to “invest” their portions in their next big caper, involving a jewelry heist, and Parker tries to say “No, thanks,” but they’ve obviously already made up their minds. Awkward.
When they gang up on our fearless hero and leave him for dead in a ditch, a farm family happens upon him and lifts him into the back of their old pickup and takes him to the hospital, which he escapes as soon as he wakes up. He’s got work to do, and scores to settle.
His backstabbing gang is now in West Palm Beach, setting up to hit an estate auction of some wealthy socialite. Bombs in the auctioneer’s speaker system. Clever. Escape in frogmen suits through the Intercoastal Waterway. Very James Bond-ish.
Parker discovers that this particular den of thieves is “connected” to the Chicago mob, which means that his efforts to seek revenge will result in professional hit men being sent his way, which Hurley (Nick Nolte), his mentor and also prospective father-in-law, tries to warn him about; he doesn’t want to jeopardize his daughter Claire (Emma Booth), either.
Claire doesn’t seem to have much function here other than to nurse Parker’s inevitable wounds, and keep at bay the aggressive real estate agent Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez). Ms. Rodgers, pushing 40 and divorced and back living with her mom, desperately needs a commission, and after Parker’s disguise as a rich Texan looking for a mansion doesn’t convince her (this is the kind of macho hero who really doesn’t do disguises well), she decides to help him, anyway, hoping there will eventually be something in it for her.
Now we’ve set the stage for the inevitable showdown between Parker and his former partners in crime, and yes, nobody can function that well after sustaining such horrific injuries, but hey, we like our heroes bloody but unbowed, and that’s how we have them here.
Yes, January releases are notoriously non-Oscar-worthy, and this one is no exception. But it is a crisp, reliable action movie that delivers exactly what it promises. Politicians, take note.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.