2 stars (out of 4)
Touted erroneously as a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson action flick, but more of a thriller with post-9/11 implications, The Mechanic is a tediously contrived Jason Statham vehicle by British director Simon West (Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider).
It is very much its own beast, whose links to the original are limited to the anti-hero lead character’s job description (paid assassin), and whose socio-political context is, well, absent.
With the exception of its troublesome morality — why, we should be asking ourselves, are we meant to be empathizing with a sociopath who blinks only once at the prospect of accepting a contract to off his wheelchair-bound mentor and employer? The Mechanic is a contemporary shoot-’em-up with lots of brooding attitude.
There are a couple of twists that aren’t much of a surprise at all, guns and blood galore, some gaudy special effects and an average dose of action stunts that defy logic and the laws of physics.
In other words: standard Statham stuff.
The story, such as it is, doesn’t bear much scrutiny. Still a bit sore from having capped his boss (given a decent semblance of vulnerable humanity by Donald Sutherland, who steals every scene he’s in), the efficient and tidy killer Arthur Bishop (Statham) makes an uncharacteristic choice.
Out of sympathy — and against all reason — Bishop takes on his victim’s revenge-bent and wayward son, Steve McKenna (Ben Foster, memorable for his ticking time-bomb portrayals in 3:10 To Yuma and The Messenger) as an apprentice. Steve has no idea what role Bishop played in his dad’s demise and happily signs on.
Trouble is, Steve is sloppy and dangerous. He loves his new job a little too much, and leaves an embarrassing mess when Bishop, having trained the nervous acolyte in the clean in-and-out niceties of his nefarious trade, sets him up with the contract murder of a gigantic homosexual assassin in the employ of a rival organization.
A second hit job, the murder of a fat and self-serving televangelist — why he’s targeted I can’t remember, but in this murky moral universe, his size and repulsive ego seem reason enough — is even more of a disaster.
Still, it does give the filmmaker a good spot in the plot to unload a number of big stunts, including our two killers rappelling halfway down the face of a hotel.
Chalking Steve’s misdeeds up to first-time jitters, Bishop perseveres with his volatile charge, even providing accommodation in his gorgeous, state-of-the-art techno-geek lair.
It’s a magnificent glass and dark-wood mansion hidden deep in a dank Louisiana bayou.
When Bishop learns he was conned into killing Steve’s father by a duplicitous partner in the company for which he works, he sets out with his accomplice to right the wrongs, or wrong the rights, or make the wrongs even wronger. Whatever.
More mayhem is clearly in the making, even though Bishop seems oblivious to the obvious: that sooner or later, the apprentice will stumble on the identity of his father’s killer and seek his own revenge.
Its morality — or lack thereof — notwithstanding, there’s very little in The Mechanic that differentiates it from any other Statham opus. It’s a genre flick, a contemporized update of the noir-killer-thriller-action template previously perfected by franchise-minded one-note actors in past generations (Bronson, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme) but bulked up with better stunts and bigger, brighter, louder effects and fast-paced digital editing.
And the one great laugh line comes — like a knowing wink from writers Lewis John Carlino, who wrote the Bronson original, and Richard Wenk — when Bishop informs his nemesis, played with typically cold villainy by Tony Goldwyn, that his days are numbered.
“Oh yeah?” the corporate killer replies. “Well, I’m gonna put such a high price on your head that when you look at yourself in the mirror, your reflection is gonna shoot you in the face!”
Not immortal words, exactly, but somehow satisfactorily defining.
Greg Quill is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.