With Oscar bearing down on us, shinning his golden, bald head, ready to shower accolades upon the most thought provoking in 2010 cinema it is good to sit back and take in something purely mindless. For the last couple years there have been a couple January Gems, diamonds in the rough during the dreck that is usually unleashed into the wild at this time of year. 2009 gave us the blockbusting hit, “Taken,” 2010 bestowed upon the viewing audience the woefully underappreciated, “Daybreakers,” and this year we have the lovingly stupid, “The Mechanic.” With an IQ far short of its ninety-three minute run time, this brutal shooter is like the cinematic Terry Bradshaw; so dumb you have to love it.
Falling squarely into the all but stale, “Best assassin in the world rebels against his employers” genre, “The Mechanic” manages to be a fun and energetic ride into the world of high priced murder. Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, the best assassin, or “Mechanic,” in the world, who works for a nameless company that has no specific agenda other than taking out a wide variety of bad guys. With targets as scattered as a Mexican cartel leader, a scummy gun runner, and a ketamine addicted cult leader it is hard to pin down the “why” in the whole film, but it is not really the point.
The point of it all is violence – swift, blinding, giddy violence – and this film has it in fistfuls. From the slick opening scene in which Bishop creatively drowns the cartel head to the explosive finale there is hardly a moment not filled with death. Through the strobing effect of repeated muzzle flashes one can almost smell the cordite.
Gratuitous isn’t a strong enough term to describe the picture. Ten minutes in finds Bishop bedding a beautiful prostitute (Mina Anden) in a scene designed to show the assassin’s loneliness, but is little more than an excuse to show the supermodel in her birthday suit. Though director Simon West does add a nice touch of cutting the scene bluntly short, stopping the music almost mid-note in an effort to portray Bishop’s detachment from the situation.
Bishop tries to mitigate his solitude by taking in Steve McKenna, the troubled son of a recently slain friend (Donald Sutherland), and showing him the ropes. With his usual intensity Ben Foster brings some dimension to the otherwise thinly conceived character of Steve, making the protégé assassin with a chip on his shoulder someone to almost feel for. He even keeps up with the Statham’s neo-Van Dam action street cred, holding his own as he shoots his way out of captivity more than once.
As Bishop passes on his wisdom onto the younger generation Statham uses his trademark stoicism and unshaven square jaw to look tough even in a cardigan. For the most part, with the exception of the sex scene, he manages to keep his shirt on for the whole film, something of a first for the former underwear model. Also almost absent are the high kicking karate moves ubiquitous in most of Statham’s previous work. Instead of punching his way through numerous stuntmen, he blows them away in increasing frequency on his way to get at Dean (Tony Goldwyn), the nameless company’s crooked liaison to the Mechanics.
However, if student/master dynamic between Bishop and McKenna is the backbone of the film “The Mechanic” is almost an invertebrate. Statham and Foster have good chemistry, and it would have been good to have a little more time devoted to their friendship, giving the conclusion more resonance. It may have slowed the pacing down a hair, but with speed at which the picture runs through each sequence it would have been the difference of one hundred miles an hour and ninety five.
Basing the script on the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same name, writers Lewis John Carlino and Richard Wenk don’t try very hard to create much of a plot for the film. The lion’s share of the picture is devoted to various “Assignments,” as Bishop calls them, each one growing in danger, and thus absurdity. The best of these is a tense scene with McKenna posing as a gay man to take on another Mechanic in order to prove he’s self-sufficient. The “how far will he go?” factor is dialed way up to squeamish proportions before a particularly brutal fight scene between the behemoth killer and the twinkish McKenna. When Dean does finally turn on Bishop and McKenna the story kicks into high gear, but it is so late into the picture that it seems like an after thought, a dramatic necessity to create a third act.
Though this is little deterrent for Simon West. Having cut his directing teeth on the Team Bruckheimer “classic,” “Con Air,” West is no stranger to the realm of the ridiculous. While “The Mechanic” will never live in the pantheon of lovable, bombastic nonsense “Con Air” does, West still proves that he has a flare for fast action. The battle sequences have a blunt ferocity instead of the Bruckheimer polish, though having been trained in that school early on some touches still survive in his style.
Despite the many flaws, the one-dimensional characters, and the brainless nature of the whole ordeal, “The Mechanic” has its merit, existing as nothing more than an hour and a half of testosterone fueled escapism. Casting and direction make up for some blaring script issues, and if one is hankering for some amoral violence this picture is a one-stop shop. Finding something at the multiplex to enjoy in the month of January may be difficult, but if you aren’t cozying up in Park City with some erudite Sundance elitism, or trying to catch up on your Best Picture nominees, the tinkling of empty shell casings on concrete may just be music to your ears.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)