Directed by Simon West
Screenplay by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino
Jason Statham as Arthur Bishop
Ben Foster as Steve McKenna
Tony Goldwyn as Dean
Donald Sutherland as Harry McKenna
Running time: 92 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.
Hyperviolent Marshmallow Fluff
Jason Statham, the icy British actor famous for jacked-up action romps including The Transporter and Crank, returns to bust heads at a more thoughtful pace in The Mechanic, a remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 film of the same name, which starred Charles Bronson.
Arthur Bishop is a special breed of contract killer – a mechanic – who specializes in “clean” assignments, in which a murder is staged either to look like an accident or to frame an innocent third party. Thus he plots his operations intricately from a hip, ultra-modern pad stashed away in the south Louisiana swamps. He has a very neat little operation going on until he gets a contract to kill his long-time mentor and friend, a suitably grizzled Donald Sutherland. Rattled by guilt over the hit and suspicious about its motives, he determines to get to the bottom of it, enlisting the help of his victim’s ne’er-do-well son Steve (Ben Foster of Pandorum) who is unaware of Bishop’s own complicity in the killing.
To atone in his own private way, Bishop agrees to train Steve as a “mechanic” with the ultimate (but unstated) aim of avenging their shared father figure. And so the story becomes “The Hitman’s Apprentice.” Rather than opt for all-out constant action, director Simon West (Con Air) takes the drama at a rather moody speed, spacing out the elaborate fights and action sequences with lots of Jason Statham walking around, brooding and looking cool.
This slows things down a bit too much in places, but things continually pick back up, and each time Statham goes on the offensive, it becomes a nastier prospect to be his enemy. When the violence does arrive, it is swift and exceedingly brutal. By contrast, the occasional sex scenes are understated and actually eye-catching for other reasons besides the obvious. The plot has a few interesting twists and turns, but it is not the kind of tale to break any new ground or make a very lasting impression on an audience. The pace is a little uneven, and the characters are a little too perfectly badass. The fight sequences are thrilling, but you never worry much about our morally ambiguous heroes getting hurt. Nonetheless, it is consistently entertaining, and that is all that can be expected of it. Thumbs up on the photography, which showcases the underworld charm of New Orleans in an offhand way that many films trying desperately to make the city look cool fail to achieve.
One important note is that sidekick Steve is a hard-drinking reckless individual driven by lifelong anger and recent grief. He does not have the cool head that Bishop insists he must cultivate in order to survive as a mechanic. Consequently, Bishop’s own methods become less clean. This does not seem to attract any more attention or consequences than when he was a super-sleek, unseen killing machine. The script more or less throws away the concept of leaving no traces, and instead adopts the motto “never let your enemy see you coming” as its core principle. By the time the climax arrives, the two heroes carve a genuine path of destruction to their desired target, concluding in an outrageously over-the-top execution. The idea of ordered, methodical attacks gets lost somewhere in the shuffle, possibly as a sly message about the ugliness of all murder, but more likely due to sloppy third-act writing with the sole aim of ramping up the violence.
So what’s the point, really, of this movie? Nothing profound, that is for sure. If you are willing to accept it as adrenaline-heavy brain candy, then this will not bother you. If you want something more substantial, help yourself to Michael Mann’s Thief or Coppola’s The Conversation. The Mechanic is just for fun, and if you’re into the kind of sucker-punch fun that Death Wish and other works by Bronson and Winner offered the world, then you should enjoy this new homage to pictures of that kind. I wonder if Elmore Leonard likes this movie. There are shadows of his early work here, too.
The film stumbles here and there on its own comic book sensibilities. One big break in the subtlety of Statham’s character is the idea that he sketches out his escape routes with big block letters that say, “Jumping Off Spot” and “Meet Barge Here,” or something. It’s a little too much, as is the one-twist-too-many ending. However, the Bronson version resolved in much the same way. Director West would have done well to cut out the final beat or two, giving this film a much stronger conclusion.
This may sound a bit like last year’s review of Sylvester Stallone’s ultimate action star vehicle The Expendables, in which Jason Statham co-starred. This film is almost as entertaining as that one, but could use a few more gratuitous cameos. Dolph Lundgren might have been too much for this movie to handle, but I definitely expected to see Ray Winstone show up somewhere. His gruff Cockney menace is very much in fashion. Nonetheless, the cast is perfectly acceptable as it stands.
What you see is mostly what you get with action movies, so check the trailer first. I can offer little else in the way of practical advice. In consideration for the untold diversity of taste out there, I fully recommend this film, on certain conditions.
Your own reaction to this film will likely hinge on whether you already like this kind of entertainment – the action revenge flick. If Point Blank, Raw Deal, or Payback hold your interest, then you will find little objectionable about this movie. If you wish something stimulating but digestible for your dull senses after a hard work week, The Mechanic may be just what the doctor ordered.
If you are not interested yet, then actually seeing the film will probably not help. You may now form your weekend plans accordingly.