The Mechanic: I kill because I have no flair

The Mechanic – 2011

Directed by Simon West

Starring Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Chase, Mini Anden

Written by Lewis John Carlino, Richard Wenk

The Mechanic was a huge hit for Charles Bronson; one of the films leading him from being a well-known supporting actor to a bankable leading star.  The script, in its original form by Lewis John Carlino, featured two assassins in a game of sexual chess, as well as, you know, the killing.  Refusals by such actors as George C. Scott to be in the movie until the sexual overtones muted led to script re-writes by Wenk into the straight, albeit more sensitive, straight up action thriller.  Seeing his complete study of the master and apprentice relationship relegated to a “pseudo James Bond film,” was one of the biggest disappointments of Carlino’s career.  One can’t help be believe that he wasn’t crying too hard while cashing the royalty checks from the increased audience of the more accessible film created in its wake.

The closest that Simon West’s 2011 remake comes to its homosexual roots is a hit job on a massive (and incredibly strong) hit man who likes, ahem, Chihuahuas.  This takes about 15 minutes to develop and, very violently conclude.  Afterwards, to make sure we don’t mistake anything, the chihuahua is given to the token women bed object (Anden) who coos appreciatively as they walk away from her, and on to another job.  This, of course, is just fine with me.  I am not looking for any amount of that kind of depth to any of my hit man movies.  If I want that, I will just go back and watch Leon.  But then, the depth of Leon was that he was really just a child beneath all that professional killing.

The Mechanic is a technically proficient, well-paced action film, much like anything else Simon West has ever done.  Then again, there’s also a lack of depth that is indicative of everything he has done.  He is about the thrills, the action and the shots fired…and that is fine.   These things just happen to be what Jason Statham is about as well.  As a result, we see two (or three, if you count Foster) action stars doing what they do.  Nothing in the film reeks of excess, unless you count the “new messiah” that you get to see for about 10 minutes.  Even he, though, is only shown in snippets.

There is nothing in this film you have not seen in the past.  There’s a wizened, worn down mentor (Sutherland).  There’s a reliable blind black man.  There’s the eye candy objectified and never pondered.  There is the classical music played for solace of a seemingly empty soul.  There’s the faceless bad guy whose fate is to be revealed and die badly.  There are plenty of quick cuts, a few kicks and, like discussed already, a few bullets.

Ben Foster is an interesting actor.  His characters are rarely straight up bad, and almost never good.  In this movie, he plays a son who’s disappointed his father in life.  After the first act, he is a wronged man.  How he handles this is at first getting drunk, and then shooting up his father’s house.  Then he makes a misguided attempt at procuring justice for himself.  When he makes a hit, it is for a different reason than his mentor (Statham).  Sloppier, angrier, but still seen as effective in the shortened time span from his introduction to his development as a hit man.  With the master, he stifles his emotions, until the time comes that they have to rise to the surface.  His character would seem the most noble, when compared to the original’s Jan Michael Vincent, who was a sociopath of the nature of Scorpio from Dirty Harry.

For his part, Statham is no different than he has been in any of the myriad of action films of his career.  He lingers a little, to show he’s thinking about something, and then he goes about his work.  We are not given anything in the way of a driving force for him, other than his house and solace in classical music.  For him, the only thing he lives for is revenge when his own mentor lands on the hit list.  Another difference between the movies is here with the final showdown between master and student.  In the original, the master has something broken inside.  We know that there is a real chance that he may want to die, but not to necessarily lose.  There is no such ambiguity in West and Statham’s version.  It’s cat and mouse all the way, and the cat  is not in the mood to spare even one of his lives.

For this, I can’t necessarily say that the movie is anything more than an exercise in gun play and you done me wrong.  The irony of going after one guy for a hit, while not even bothering (in the presumed months of training) to explain to your student the circumstances to why he may eventually want to come after you leaves one so removed from their feelings they become less interesting.  Almost inhuman.  You know, like a killing machine.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger knew better than that.  Even robots need to have a little flair.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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