Director Simon West’s The Mechanic is a briskly paced remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson film, with Jason Statham filling Bronson’s shoes.
Statham has little to none of the weather-beaten grit that leaked from Bronson’s pores. Unlike Bronson he could slink seamlessly into the scenery of a Shampoo or Coca-Cola commercial, beach ball in hand, twinkle in the eye, but Statham found his niche elsewhere — as a cranky hard-boiled action man with a shit-eating grin and comically gruff inflection. He’s still establishing his presence in the blood’n’bullets genre and will knuckle and protect his turf, if he’s smart. There’s a sense the bubble could easily burst one cha-ching rom com down the track.
Statham’s soapy tough guy is not, in other words, a brilliant impersonation of a hard ass — he used to be a fashion model, and it shows — but he’s at least good enough to cut the mustard. Statham’s junky star vehicles (Crank 1 and 2, The Transporter 1-3) are lightweight and expendable, in the meaty part of the action movie curve: bad enough to forget, good enough to entertain, and enough to solidify his stocks in Hollywood.
In The Mechanic Statham plays Arthur Bishop, an assassin for hire. In terms of consummate professionalism Bishop is similar to Statham’s eponymous character in The Transporter (2002), a staunchly by-the-book specialist who never asks questions or gets personally involved. But the “this time it’s personal” bells clang loudly when Bishop is assigned the job of whacking an old friend and colleague, played by Donald Sutherland.
Bishop then befriends the old man’s son Steve (Ben Foster) and teaches him how to become a crackerjack assassin, while keeping the knowledge that he killed papa to himself.
There’s more than a splash of absurdity in the film’s opening swimming pool assassination, setting the tone for an over-heated engine of cartoony action comparable to the latter years of Pierce Brosnan 007 flicks. But Simon West goes somewhere different, closer to tense and twitchy action, with the toony element trickling throughout as an undercurrent. When Steve is assigned to take out a 6 foot 7 beefcake with an affection for boys and Chihuahuas — opting for a hands-on approach instead of poisoning his drink — it leads to a sizzling white knuckle showdown far removed from the opening lark.
The Mechanic is sprayed with farcical too-convenient writing, the kind that precisely aligns an oncoming car to hit a body the moment it falls to the ground, or a character glancing somewhere at exactly the right time to coincide with something else, like a pithy line of dialogue. At its worst the plot mechanics are tied so tight and convenient its construction becomes lazily contrived; at its best the film has a cunning sassiness at opposite ends to the Hollywood norm: no moral coming of age, no leading lady, no cheesy ending. Most importantly – given this breed of popcorn no-brainer – The Mechanic moves fast and never bores.
The Mechanic’s Australian theatrical release date: March 24, 2010