A souped-up version of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same title reworked for Jason Statham, “The Mechanic” is glitzy trash, a violent bauble so ludicrous and over-the-top that it reeks of Luc Besson’s influence, even if he’s not directly involved (maybe “The Mechanical Transporter” would have been a better title). It’s depressing that such mindless mayhem keeps getting made, but even more depressing was the enthusiastic audience reaction it elicited at a recent screening. The whoops of satisfaction as automatic weapons mowed down bodies were sad, whatever the quality of the victims.
Richard Wenk’s script follows the general outline of Lewis John Carlito’s original about an expert assassin who takes a trainee under his wing. But here the younger man is Steve McKenna (Ben Foster), the troubled son of wheelchair-bound Harry (Donald Sutherland), who was the mentor (and business contact) of contract killer Arthur Bishop (Statham). Arthur, a supremely adept technician who arranges his elaborate hits (and escapes) to look like accidents, is a sensitive sort despite his stoic demeanor (he not only plays a soulful excerpt from a Schubert piano trio—the same one Kubrick used in “Barry Lyndon”—after completing a job, but does so via an old vinyl record on a massive turntable). And he basically adopts the volatile Steve as his assistant after he’s been compelled to kill Harry when Dean (Tony Goldwyn), the head of the “company” for which Bishop works, orders the hit because McKenna’s supposedly been raiding the till.
After a prologue illustrating Arthur’s skill in offing a Colombian drug lord in his own swimming pool—an obvious copy of the old Bond teasers—much of “The Mechanic” is devoted to bonding sessions between Bishop and the surly Steve and prolonged missions in which one or both of the men are involved. The most contrived is their termination of a sleazy preacher, involving hiding in walls and jumping off tall buildings in a single bound, although their joint assault on the ultimate villain of the piece in the last reel is equally flamboyant, from the action perspective. But as much time is also given to a solo effort on Steve’s part to rub out a rival hitman, and it’s especially disgusting not merely because it involves a bloody, protracted fight sequence but because it panders, in a quite ugly way, to the target audience’s squeamishness about homosexuality.
Still, although it represents an unsavory brew, “The Mechanic” is efficiently put together by Simon West in the overripe Besson style, though it hammers across every point in the apparent belief that its natural viewers will be dullards. (It even feels compelled to explain the title by having Sutherland tell Bishop, after a successful caper, “You’re a machine,” though you’d think after so many years working together both men would be well aware of that.) One doesn’t expect real acting in a movie like this, and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint: Statham does his usual stone-faced routine, Foster goes for simmering menace, and Goldwyn is the caricature of a slick, untrustworthy boss. Only Sutherland seems to be having any fun at all.
And unless you’re in the mood for yet another helping of the silly action that’s characterized all of Statham’s vehicles, you won’t be joining him, because “The Mechanic” has very little new or surprising to offer. Though it tries to ignite an adrenaline rush, the movie is curiously unexciting, a jerrybuilt machine that sputters along rather than zooming.