The Mechanic (2011) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong brutal violence throughout, some sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 93 min.
Cast: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland, Jeff Chase
Director: Simon West
Screenplay: Richard Wenk, Lewis John Carlino
A respectable action effort that makes up for its lack of depth with tight pacing and some tense, brutal action sequences that actually do manage to deliver on visceral impact. It's a remake of a minor classic 1972 film of the same name, starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, and while this is a glossy, modern-day take, it's for the interesting character touches that The Mechanic doesn't become too "mechanical" to disappear into the action movie abyss many other Statham starring vehicles fall into.
Jason Statham (The Expendables, The Bank Job) plays a professional assassin named Arthur Bishop, one of the best at what he does in the world, covering every track by making every kill look like an accident. He works, tenuously, for a big shot named Dean (Goldwyn, The Last Samurai), and his toughest assignment comes when Dean hands over his next mark -- Bishop's mentor, friend and longtime assassin himself, Harry McKenna (Sutherland, Fool's Gold). Bishop's a pro, so he consents to the kill.
Afterward, Bishop meets up with Harry's son, Steve (Foster, 30 Days of Night), who is on a foolish quest to vent his anger at his father's death by killing those who might be responsible. Bishop is displeased by Steve's lashing out indiscriminately, so he takes him under his wing, just as Steve's father did with him (and not his own son, much to Steve's chagrin), to teach him the ropes of the assassination game. But Steve has a screw loose and he's full of much bottled-up rage, which makes him a liability to the normally calm, cool, and collected Bishop's calculating style.
The Mechanic may ultimately lack for substance, but there's no denying that director Simon West (Tomb Raider, The General's Daughter) keeps the action and character interactions running like a well-oiled machine, with very good pacing, some surprising plot developments, and characters just off-beat enough to enjoy following even when there isn't any fighting on the screen. Once paired together, we're always waiting for when the student is going to put two and two together and confront the teacher, which does give their relationship the edginess necessary, and Arthur's character the duplicity, to make this more than a simple-minded brawler.
But when it comes time to brawl, there isn't any holding back, as faces get punched, torsos get skewered and bodies get slammed against walls and counters as if it really looks painful. Excellent stunt work bolsters the action, making it far more intense and visceral than CGI ever could. Unlike most modern-day actioners, it never plays grandiose, and never does the screenplay by Richard Wenk (16 Blocks, Just the Ticket) and Lewis John Carlino (whose original 1972 screenplay provides the basis for this one) try to tie what's going on into a larger, more topical world view. The stage is set that these are people -- professionals -- and what's going on in their lives all exists under the surface of most peoples' perception. It's not close to plausible, but it's also not outlandishly cartoonish, which places it a cut above obvious popcorn movie fare.
However, The Mechanic benefits most, not from its direction or stunts, but from low viewer expectations. You know what to expect from a 2011 action flick, and know the kinds of films Statham generally makes. Toss in a B-list supporting cast, including Tony Goldwyn as Statham's foil, and you'd probably assume just another easily consumable and ultimately forgettable brooding slugfest. It's not that, and it's not bad, which is almost enough to make it a pleasant surprise. Perhaps it's empty, perhaps it's vapid, but it moves so slick and delivers so compactly when it needs to, you may not have time to notice its inherent deficiencies.
©2011 Vince Leo