Filed after ‘Schwarzenegger’ and ‘Stallone’, ‘Statham’ is now officially a genre of film in which bullets are a part of a balanced diet, explosions occur in slow motion and professional badasses go out of their way to break all of their own rules. The Mechanic, a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson flick of the same name, is the latest addition to Jason Statham’s action movie arsenal, and although it’s hardly the most memorable 90 minutes to be had at the movies, it does exactly what it says on the tin, and does so quite well.
Statham (Transporter 3) stars as Arthur, a skilled hitman who plans his assassinations to look like freak accidents. Arthur feels no remorse for his victims; it’s not personal, it’s purely business. That changes, of course, when his superior (Tony Goldwyn; The Last House on the Left) orders him to take out his wheelchair bound mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland; Ordinary People), who supposedly betrayed the company during an operation in South Africa years earlier. Arthur goes through with the hit, but if you’re vigilant, you’ll notice the usually po-faced Statham wince as he pulls the trigger. Presumably out of guilt, Arthur watches over Harry’s drunk and reckless son Steve (Ben Foster; 3:10 To Yuma), who is seeking revenge for his daddy’s untimely demise. In spite of this, Arthur makes the oh-so-wise decision of training up the emotionally unstable Steve as his protégé, effectively breaking every rule outlined in the sixth edition of Hitman for Dummies. (Perhaps he only had edition five?)
Absurdities aside, action fans will be happy to know that The Mechanic doesn’t pussyfoot around, thankfully avoiding any of the gushy sentiment that is usually shoehorned into films about professional assassins (see: The American). Back in Con Air mode, Simon West’s direction revels in the violence without diluting any of the nastiness with humour, which is actually quite refreshing in the wake of lousy action-comedies such as Killers and Knight and Day. Each of the action set pieces are satisfyingly staged, particularly one living room brawl in which Steve takes on a homosexual thug twice his size with a belt and screwdriver. It’s nasty business alright, but never to the point where it stops being entertaining.
Foster, who has a habit of acting the bejebus out of meat-headed roles, is almost distractingly good as the loose cannon bubbling with bent-up aggression. He characterises Steve in ways I suspect Richard Wenk’s cliché-ridden screenplay never even considered. Then there’s Statham, a machine of war whose stoic stare alone has the capacity to kill. He’s hardly what you’d call a versatile actor, but he has my respect for two reasons: 1) he’s one of the few remaining action stars in Hollywood who isn’t claiming his pension, and 2) he has yet to star in a Disney movie in which he must babysit projectile-vomiting children. That’s like dressing up a pit-bull in a tutu, and I hope both Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson sincerely regret it.
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