An elite hit man teaches his trade to an apprentice who has a connection to one of his previous victims.
THE MECHANIC is the kind of film that is made to satisfy the action audience. It achieves this end efficiently. It delivers action in a direct and unpretentious way. It’s a film made for an audience looking for biffo, gun-play, abseiling, fast cars, speed boats, head-shots, arterial blood spray, some female nudity and of course, big orange fireball explosions. I used to work with a guy who would define certain songs as “four-on the-floor, meat and potatoes, straight-down-the-line rock and roll.” This pretty much describes THE MECHANIC.
Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, the Mechanic of the title. In the parlance of the film a mechanic is someone who can execute a successful hit on a target. Statham who has impressed action fans with his man-of-few-words “can-do” persona in the TRANSPORTER films, approaches the role of Bishop with his usual low-key charisma.
The rest of the casting is less solid. Ben Foster is somewhat annoying as Steve the apprentice. Steve is a twitchy young man with a chip on his shoulder. He’s the sort of guy you’d have second thoughts about hiring at MacDonalds, that Bishop decides to mentor the young punk, seems expedient at best. Tony Goldwyn once again plays a corporate bad guy. Donald Sutherland has a couple of short scenes as Arthur’s mentor Harry. This is a film that gives us more Tony Goldwyn and less Donald Sutherland.
But the real problem is the action sequences. They’re boring. There wasn’t a single new idea to be seen. As the film crashed towards its big budget finale, I was underwhelmed by the lack of surprise. Certain sequences felt poorly set up or cut short.
This describes 95% of the action movies that make it to the big screen. But THE MECHANIC is a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same title directed by Michael Winner. The premise is similar – a veteran assasin trains a young apprentice and finds trouble as a result. It was one of the many action thrillers that Bronson made in the 1970s. Before he was supplanted at the box office by the Arnolds, Slys and Bruces in the 1980s, Bronson was The Man when it came to a certain type of four-on the-floor, meat and potatoes, straight-down-the-line action movie. MR MAJESTYK (1972), THE VALACCI PAPERS (1972) and DEATH WISH (1974) were inexpensive pictures that sold well all around the world. Bronson was in his fifties at this point and with his blunt face and lethal moustache he was an icon of tough, non-emotive, brutal masculinity.
THE MECHANIC was part of this cycle yet slightly different to his other actioners. For a movie about hitmen, it was quite pretentious. Bronson’s Arthur Bishop was a contemplative man, an intellectual, an artiste of death. He played classical music on his quadrophonic sound system and compulsively moulded a piece of putty in one hand (to improve his finger strength) while staring intently at a pinboard covered in photos and information about the target. His mission was to create perfect, undetectable kills. The apprentice character was played by Jan-Michael Vincent. Even before becoming a junior hitman he watches a female acquaintance die slowly and doesn’t intervene for philosophical reasons. He has no responsibility for her life, he reasons. You obviously wanted to kill yourself, he says.
None of this was genius, but the film has a chill, detached vibe and a double twist ending which felt unexpected at the time. So why remake one of Bronson’s more unusual actioners into something merely adequate? It doesn’t improve on the original and doesn’t give Statham anything more to do than his TRANSPORTER movies.
Simon West best known for directing CON AIR (1997) does a competent job here. At 93 minutes the new THE MECHANIC is seven minutes shorter than the old one. If you’ve seen the original, then you are unlikely to find it eclipsed by the remake. If you’re new to this material and want some undemanding, high adrenaline, shoot-em-up fun, then this could be the flick for you.
THE MECHANIC opens in Australia today. I rated it 2.5/5