Anybody who saw British director Michael Winner’s top-notch 1972 killer-thriller “The Mechanic” with Charles Bronson cast as a stoic, steely-eyed assassin who makes murder look like an accident knows no remake could ever do it justice. Mind you, Jason Statham makes “Con-Air” director Simon West’s rehash of this classic action epic tolerable. Statham possesses an iconic presence that the cinema has been grooming since he made his debut in writer & director Guy Ritchie’s outstanding crime opus “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” in 1998. French producer Luc Besson catapulted the actor to widespread prominence with larger-than-life “The Transporter” franchise. Meantime, if the best action movies must top each other, then “The Mechanic” sends Statham stumbling. Although it occurs in a believable physical environment, “The Mechanic” (** out of ****) is just too tame and low yield to be more than average. You don’t see Statham perform any stunts here that he hasn’t done far better in either his “Transporter” trilogy or his outlandish “Crank” movies.
Credit Simon West for maintaining the momentum throughout this contemporary actioneer. Nevertheless, the surprises, complications, and villains induce yawns more often than alarms. As R-rated thrillers go, “The Mechanic” seems incredibly subdued compared with genuine R-rated exercises in blood, gore and murder like the recent crime epic “The Punisher.” “16 Blocks” scenarist Richard Wenk has changed substantially the content and context of the original in his update. Lewis John Carlino, who penned the original, shares screen credit with Wenk but it is difficult to determine if more than the Carlino basics were retained. A straight scene-for-scene retelling of the original “Mechanic” would have been less-than-inspired but more than adequate. Apparently, West and Wenk wanted to improve on the original and thus dispense with everything that made it memorable. Unlike the grim 1972 ending, the “Mechanic” remake boasts an upbeat ending. Furthermore, this revenge melodrama provides more deception that makes our hero appear somewhat stupid when you think about it because the villains take advantage of him in a way that would never have occurred in the Bronson classic. Moreover, unlike Bronson and co-star Jan-Michael Vincent, Statham and Ben Foster kindle little charisma as mentor and apprentice.
Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham of “The Expendables”) is a reclusive killer who performs hits for a mysterious corporation. He is the best in the business, and the first scene demonstrates his expertise. Bishop penetrates the premises of a Colombian drug lord. Scores of heavily armed brutes patrol the place. Nevertheless, our protagonist kills the drug lord right under their collective noses. Moreover, Bishop makes it appear as if drug lord drowned. This is probably as slick as “The Mechanic” remake gets, and our anti-heroic hero makes good his escape by swimming away under the dead drug dealer. The guards think nothing unusual as they watch their wiry boss perform a slow crawl across the pool. The next thing they know is their boss has curled up dead in the water. They sound the alarm, but Bishop is far away. Bishop meets his mentor, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland of “The Eagle Has Landed”), who rolls around in a wheelchair. Harry brings Arthur a package of greenbacks as payment. Harry and he have a history, and Harry is the closest to a friend that Arthur has. When Arthur isn’t knocking off people, he listens to vinyl Schubert recordings on a turntable, tinkers with his fashionable Jaguar, and checks his e-mail on his Apple. Occasionally, he goes out for a drink and enjoys the company of a well-paid prostitute. Incidentally, Arthur lives in a sumptuous residence in a remote bayou outside of New Orleans. Life for Arthur, as far as everything goes, couldn’t be better until he learns that Harry has been selling out his colleagues to the tune of $50 million. Harry’s partner, Dean (Tony Goldwyn of “Ghost”), contacts Arthur and shows him a sheaf of gory photos.
Naturally, Arthur has to think this contract over before he accepts it. A life-long friend, Harry has been there for him. Harry loves Arthur like a son. Harry has a son, Steve (Ben Foster of “3:10 to Yuma”), but he cannot stand his son and considers him a complete waste of time. Anyway, Arthur decides to perform the hit, if for no other reason than Harry will suffer less. Of course, Arthur makes Harry’s death look like a carjacking. Eventually, Steve drifts into the picture and the only thing on his mind is revenge. Arthur intervenes to keep Steve from killing an innocent criminal and decides to train him as a hit man. Dean doesn’t think that this is one of Arthur’s better ideas, but he lets him do it. Arthur teaches Steve the rules of killing, but Steve isn’t as cautious and careful. Rather than kill a child molesting thug without fanfare, Steve decides to beat the man to death. Steve survives, but he looks like he ran into a bull dozer. As Steve learns more and more, he moves in with Arthur. One day Steve discovers his father’s nickel-plated automatic pistol in Arthur’s storage tubs and plots his mentor’s demise. Before he can carry out the hit, Arthur and he must leave for Chicago to murder a religious cult figure with a controversial background. Indeed, nothing goes right for them and they escape by the skin of their teeth.
Director Simon West doesn’t rely as heavily on high tech gadgetry. He keeps most of violence pretty down to earth. The shoot-out scenes are staged without excessive blood and gore, and West lets nothing get in the fairly straight-f0rward storyline. West and Wenk do insert an occasional surprise. The best concerns cramming a teenage girl’s fingers down a garbage disposal in a sink. Not surprisingly, Arthur Bishop comes off looking immaculate compared with his murderous colleagues as well as the unholy scum of the earth that he receives orders to terminate with extreme prejudice. For the record, the Charles Bronson character in the original worked for the Italian mafia and his father had been a top mob boss. No traces of the mafia exist in the remake. Unfortunately, “The Mechanic” is primarily a nuts and bolts melodrama with little to distinguish it outside of Jason Statham’s tight-lipped performance and Ben Foster’s maniacal energy as a wannabe killer.0