CBS Films quickly carved themselves a little niche for old school action movies. One of the first films they released was the 70’s revenge throwback, Faster, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It was a marked departure from their first two productions, the medical drama Extraordinary Measures and the Jennifer Lopez rom-com, The Back-Up Plan. CBS follows up Faster with The Mechanic, a remake of the 1972 picture directed by Michael Winner and starring Charles Bronson. The original film was a warm-up for Winner and Bronson’s more renowned Death Wish franchise. It did feature a classic 15-minute, dialogue free opening with Bronson preparing an elaborate set-up to kill his target.
This time around, Jason Statham takes on the role of Arthur Bishop, an assassin who kills his targets in intricate fashion to prevent anyone from knowing he was ever there in the first place. Bishop isn’t your average thug, he’s a high-class aesthete. He lives in an ultra-modern home tucked away in the bayous outside New Orleans and listens to Schubert…on vinyl, no less. Bishop and his best friend and mentor, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland, in an all-too brief role) are both in the employ of a shadowy organization that is nice enough to only murder unsavory folks like drug lords and arms dealers.
Everything changes when Bishop’s boss, Mr. Dean (Tony Goldwyn), orders Bishop to take out Harry when it is revealed he has double-crossed the organization. He reluctantly pulls the trigger and winds up becoming the mentor of Harry’s wayward son, Steve (Ben Foster). Steve is trained in the art of contract killing, but lacks Bishop’s patience and discipline. His sloppiness sinks what should have been clean, simple jobs. Not to mention, there’s that thing about Bishop killing Steve’s dad.
The original Mechanic was a slight attempt at emulating the philosophical crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville. This new version doesn’t even bother to engage on more thoughtful levels. So don’t expect The Mechanic to come anywhere close to the existential hitman movie that The American was. The remake isn’t about belly gazing and contemplations about solitude, it’s all about explosions and bone-crunching fist fights. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
The Mechanic is the prototypical Jason Statham actioner and fits nicely into his oeuvre alongside the Crank and Transporter franchises. Statham is probably the closest thing we have to a modern-day Charles Bronson. He has a steely gaze, a unique voice, and is wholly believable as a stone cold badass (though only Danny Trejo can match Bronson’s craggly visage). No slouch in the intensity department, Ben Foster matches up well to Statham as his livewire protégé. You wonder if they ever have staring contests with each other or see who can grow the cooler looking stubble. There’s no denying the film has a rather palpable homoerotic subtext riding through the narrative, especially considering there are no substantial characters of the female persuasion. The screenplay by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (who also penned the original) makes sure to undercut this by having Bishop frequenting the classy call girl with a heart of gold.
The action scenes are well done without descending into a seizure-inducing series of overly edited shaky camera shots. Two of the highlights include a brutal fight scene between Foster and a rival, 6’7 hitman and a rooftop shootout that ends with the protagonists repelling down the side of a skyscraper. The set pieces still tend to be a little too hyperactive; this is after all a Simon West movie. The story is clichéd and predictable with a late plot twist done in the laziest of manners. It does, however, contain a very funny one-liner uttered by Tony Goldwyn in which he menacingly declares to Bishop, “I’m going to put a price on your head so big that when you look in the mirror, your reflection is gonna want to shoot you in the face.”
Film Value: 6 out of 10