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Originally published Friday, January 25, 2013 at 6:01 AM

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‘Parker’: Hard-as-nails malice put to good use

A movie review of “Parker,” director Taylor Hackford’s well-constructed heist thriller and hard-as-nails character study that follows a crook (Jason Statham) with a rigid moral code who plots payback after being betrayed.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars  

“Parker,” with Jason Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte. Directed by Taylor Hackford, from a screenplay by John J. McLaughlin. 118 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and brief sexual content and nudity. Several theaters.

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He’s shot, stabbed and beaten. Then Parker (Jason Statham) turns around and repays the favor with the same violent coin. The man is a big believer in rough equivalence, and I do mean rough. So in carefully calibrated fashion, with knife, gun and fists, he punishes the guys who did him dirty in “Parker.”

It’s the old vengeance-is-mine scenario, but handled with skill and no small amount of intelligence by director Taylor Hackford. Statham, the foremost B-movie action star of our day, is well-served by the man whose résumé includes “Ray” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Which is to say that under Hackford’s direction, there is more to “Parker” than explosively staged action sequences (though there are plenty of those).

Adapting a novel by the late prolific crime writer Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark), Hackford and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin have crafted a well-constructed heist thriller and hard-as-nails character study.

Parker, the protagonist of 16 Stark novels, is a crook and a killer who nevertheless adheres to a rigid moral code. That means, as Parker says at various points, he doesn’t hurt people who don’t deserve it, civilized people follow rules and, most importantly, “I always follow through.”

So when he’s betrayed by a gang of crooks for whom he’s masterminded a big-money heist, then shot and left for dead, he heals up remarkably quickly (aah, the movies, where a character near death in one scene is operating at full steam in the next) and, with smarts and deliberation, plots payback.

Payback takes him to glitzy Palm Beach, where the betrayers (led by a snarling Michael Chiklis) are planning a big jewel robbery. To track them to the house where they’re hiding, he enlists an unwitting real-estate agent played by Jennifer Lopez in a performance that ranks up there with her work in 1998’s “Out of Sight” — another crime thriller in which she blended humor and dramatic beats in an expert manner.

She’s good, but Statham is even better. With a hard glare second only to Clint Eastwood’s in terms of its concentrated malice, and with a sense of astute purposefulness, his Parker turns the tables with ruthlessness tempered by an austere moral sensibility.

Soren Andersen:

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