You want me to like your action movie? Here’s what you do: Be fun, don’t be afraid to be a bit goofy, please revel in absurdity (it’s one of the few genres where you can get away with it), and—for the love of all that is cinematic—do not take yourself too seriously. You can break most of those rules, have a few inanimate objects blow up here and there, and there’s still a good chance I’ll get something out of your dumb action movie. Just don’t get all pompous and pretend you’re making high art, because that’s the quickest route to boredom, the cardinal sin of movies.
Simon West’s The Mechanic commits that last unforgivable offense. Which is a pity, since it stars Jason Statham, a man who—after two Crank films, three Transporter flicks and a glut of other junk—is the prime action hero working today who’s not afraid to make ridiculous—yet entertaining—garbage. The biggest problem with this film is that it’s a remake of a 1972 Michael Winner film of the same name starring Charles Bronson, and the updated film acts like it must treat its predecessor with some sort of reverence, even if all this accomplishes is to create a movie with all the personality and freshness sucked from it. This includes Statham, who has long managed to make a career in these sort of meatheaded action roles, all while showing some acting chops and remaining personable. But this time out, he’s channeling Bronson’s wooden, tough-guy persona, and film wilts under this stone-faced demeanor.
The Mechanic starts off promisingly enough, getting the basics of the original down without being an exact transcription. Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a humorless loner of a hitman who calls himself a “mechanic” since he’s in the business of fixing problems, with a specialty in complicated hits that look like accidents. After getting hired to knock-off his long-time friend and boss Harry (Donald Sutherland), he decides—out of either loyalty or guilt—to train Harry’s son Steve (Ben Foster, Pandorum) in the ways of being a hitman.
The story then focuses on even-keeled Arthur teaching hotheaded Steve the ropes. The movie clearly wants to be about the relationship between the two men, but it’s never fleshed out properly. We just have just hints here and there at something more. We’re told that Arthur is a lonely man, his only interpersonal connection being with a prostitute (Mimi Anden, My Best Friend’s Girl), and we’re shown that Steve obviously has daddy issues. It’s not like there weren’t opportunities in the script to examine the two mens’ connection. For instance, there are a few scenes where Steve seduces a male hitman in an attempt to kill him, yet despite all the subtext that could have been drawn out of this, none is. Instead, the relationship between Arthur and Steve just flounders aimlessly as we shift from one shaky-cam action scene to another.
None of this is helped by the film’s perfunctory twist ending, which—without getting into spoilers—completely undermines everything we’ve sat through. This itself is an issue, since this ending feels like nothing more than the idea that if Bronson’s Mechanic had a twist ending, this needs one, too. It’s a balancing act between a remake that wants to be its own movie and one that can’t get away from the original. It never has the wherewithal to distance itself from its source, and the result is an action flick with no identity whatsoever. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.