Thursday, January 27, 2011
Review: "The Mechanic"
If you took movies like "The American" or "Taken" -- lean, efficient thrillers about hit men struggling with their violent histories -- and stripped them of any intellectual pretense, you'd have "The Mechanic."
Credit this new action flick from stolid B-list leading man Jason Statham ("The Transporter," "Crank") and director Simon West ("Con Air") with being self-aware. It doesn't try to dazzle with deep meditations on aging assassins filled with regret. This is a movie devoted to celebrating mayhem, which it does with straightforward flair.
Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a veteran "mechanic" or hit man. He works for a shadowy group that simply calls itself "The Company," but we don't get the sense it's a governmental agency hunting bad guys. Bishop receives a file from time to time, which names a target he's to take out.
Sometimes the kill is supposed to be big and bloody, to send a message to the world. Other times, Bishop is expected to carry out his mission without anyone knowing he was ever there.
Much of the film's enjoyment comes from watching Bishop come up with all sorts of ingenious ways to execute his victims. An opening sequence involving a Columbian drug lord surrounded by a veritable army of gun-toting guards comes down to an afternoon swim and a wristwatch.
Things go south when Bishop receives his new assignment, and it's to take out his own handler, a wheelchair-bound old-timer named McKenna (Donald Sutherland). The boss (a slithery Tony Goldwyn) claims McKenna was taking bribes and set up another team of assassins, who all perished. Since Bishop is his friend, they figure he'll have the best chance of slaying McKenna with no mess.
But a mess finds a way to stick to Bishop anyway, in the form of McKenna's screw-up of a son, Steve. Steve doesn't have any plans beyond drinking up his dad's stores of scotch before the bank comes to repossess the house, so Bishop decides to take him under his wing and train Steve as his protégé.
This is the film's best section, as the two men slowly gain a trust that Bishop knows will eventually be punctured when Steve learns that his mentor was the one who killed his father. Steve is played by Ben Foster, who lends his character a skeevy but soulful presence.
Foster's made something of a career stealing scenes as a sidekick to bigger stars -- "3:10 to Yuma," "The Messenger" -- and does so again here.
The final act of the movie is a paint-by-numbers affair in which Bishop and Steve team up to annihilate the organization they'd been working for. Still, the action scenes are crisp and engaging -- especially a rooftop shootout that ends in a sudden drop.
The screenplay is by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino, who also wrote the 1972 original film starring Charles Bronson upon which this is based.
"The Mechanic" scores because it knows what it is and isn't -- it thrives not on brainpower, but the horsepower of bloody havoc.
3 stars out of four