Jason Statham is an action star, not an actor. That's not a dig no matter how it sounds. He plays an almost identical role from movie to movie; quiet, intense, loner anti-hero who says little but can take you out with any variety of weapons, improvised or not. As I watched one of his latest offerings, the unnecessary but mindlessly entertaining 2011's The Mechanic, that's all I could think of. He's Charles Bronson meets Chuck Norris meets any number of other action stars. No what you're watching with him, and you will normally enjoy it....to a point.
Working for a mysterious agency with seemingly infinite funds available to them, Arthur Bishop (Statham) is the best at what he does. His job? He's a mechanic; a man who takes assignments, researches them, fixes them and gets the job done. Translation = He's a hit man, and there are none better. Finally though, he's given a task that hits him the wrong way; Bishop must kill Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), his longtime employer who's been accused of turning on the agency. Testing his loyalty, Bishop goes through with it only to run into Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) soon after. Through some combination of guilt, regret and confusion, Bishop takes Steve under his wing, teaching him all he knows about pulling off a successful hit.
First off, this movie -- as mentioned earlier -- is completely unnecessary. It is a remake of a cult classic from 1972 (same title) starring Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent that is oddly perfect in that 1970s B-movie quality. Why touch it? Why remake it? I suppose someone said 'Why not?' So with that said, let's move on. To his credit, director Simon West commits to this movie. It is a no frills action story, brutal in its depiction of violence, not subtle in its random sex scenes, and generally has the feel of a 1970s crime thriller. New Orleans and the surrounding swamps serve as the background, a gritty down South feel permeating the story. It doesn't try to be anything profound, groundbreaking or new. That's all great, but it begs the question I so often ask when watching a remake of a movie that didn't need to be remade.....why?
If you're a fan of the original with Bronson, you will no doubt enjoy this one to a point. If you haven't seen it, who knows, maybe you will like it more. The only change in the tone of the story is the agency Bishop works for. 'Mechanic' thankfully does not try to make Bishop a hero, but at the same time, he's not just a hitman. His targets end up being the scum of the Earth, people who deserve to get killed including a pedophile rival hitman and a corrupt TV evangelical preacher. Just have him kill lots and lots of really bad dudes. Don't try and shove a message down my throat. He's a badass. Leave it at that.
Remaking the Bronson original, it is only fitting then that Statham is cast in the titular role. I'm not saying Jason Statham is Charles Bronson, but there are certain similarities in the roles they played. Neither is ever talkative on-screen, and there is a coldness and natural brutality and callousness in their performances. That translates well playing a hit man who knows the ins and outs of everything about his business. A clean kill, make it look like an accident, send a message, Statham's Bishop can do it all. Channeling some other movie hit men that have come before him, Statham makes his character stoic, almost monk-like who meticulously prepares for his next assignment. Prone to overacting at times, Foster is a good counter to Statham's quietness. He tones it down some while still managing to get a few good laughs from some dark, dark humor. Sutherland's part amounts to a cameo so it's cool to see him but little else with Tony Goldwyn playing Dean, Arthur's employer and contact for assignments.
The one thing I was genuinely looking forward to here was how the 2011 version handled the ending. The 1972 version is a classic in its shock value. Well, I have to say I think I'm losing my mind when it comes to botched endings. 'Mechanic' goes for that similar ending -- still effective even knowing what's coming -- and then taps the brakes similar to what Oliver Stone did in this summer's Savages. Why do directors feel the need to tweak nearly perfect endings? Does everything have to be wrapped up nicely in a bow? Here, it is a quick scene that throws a stupid twist our way, reversing what could have been a great ending. But no, we're forced to have it all end pleasantly. Overall, I came away entertained somewhat but mostly unimpressed. Technically, it's a good enough movie, but it never really gives us a reason to enjoy it.
The Mechanic <---trailer (2011): **/****