FILM REVIEW: 'The Mechanic' Redo Betrays the Realism, Spareness of the Original

The Mechanic - Film Still - 2011
Frantic, numbing redo of the Charles Bronson original for hardcore Statham and action fans only.  

Director Simon West's frantic style works against Jason Statham's cool brooding in the film, co-starring Ben Foster.

Even on a second try, they can't get The Mechanic right. Silly and pandering where the 1972 original was pokey and short on style, this updated hit man training film features the most annoyingly incoherent action cutting since Quantum of Solace and fails even on the most rudimentary level of creating a few iconic Jason Statham moments. Blowing an opportunity to at last inject some flair into the telling of original writer Lewis John Carlino's solid basic premise, CBS Films and Millennium can anticipate okay returns from undemanding guy-movie audiences domestically, with better results likely overseas.

More in retrospect than at the time, the first incarnation of The Mechanic enjoys a certain stature as one of the first pure American entries in the hired assassin sub-genre, in addition to being a sort of warm-up for the Charles Bronson-Michael Winner teaming on the Death Wish movies that began two years later.

But while Carlino's central conceit, that of a master teaching his craft to the son of one of his victims, is clever and possesses a measure of time-bomb tension, the original suffers from a can't-be-bothered attitude toward visual expression. By contrast, present director Simon West remains just as devoted to working in bold face and capital letters now as he did in his debut with Con Air 14 years ago, albeit to considerably diminished returns.

From the outset, one senses the strain involved in coming up with more grandiose versions of parallel scenes in the original. It's a point of pride with highly paid lone wolf assassin Arthur Bishop to make his killings look like accidents. But the first job we see is preposterous on the face of it, as he hides underwater at the bottom of a Colombian drug lord's indoor swimming pool so that, when the guy finally decides to take a dip, Bishop can grab and drown him and hide his own hand, even as armed goons surround the pool. Sorry, this just doesn't seem like it would be any top killer's preferred, most reliable technique.

Much of Richard Wenk's redo of Carlino's more spare and realistic original betrays the same effort of trying to come up with something bigger, badder and more sensational, just for the sake of it, nowhere moreso than in the picture's most violent scene: Satisfied with the progress shown by his young protege Steve McKenna (Ben Foster), Bishop sends him to dispatch a rival assassin, a huge gay man he knows will take a fancy to Steve. The resulting bloodbath is chaotically staged and cut in a way that subverts any sense of realism and won't convince anyone that Steve could actually get out of there alive.

Like many action stars, Statham is good at cool brooding, but West's frantic style works against this, allowing no personal mood to seep in and preventing the actor from finding time or space of his own just to be. Foster supplies the expected edgy eccentricities to his unpredictable character, but it mostly feels like window dressing. West is still working in '90s Bruckheimer factory style but, without an overlay of ironic humor, the act is now looking a little desperate.

What's left, then, is persistent pounding and pummeling, a higher body count than the original and shreds of a promising existential story about a man whose profession appears to checkmate himself. As before, that the anti-hero has a serious, deeper side is indicated by his taste for classical music (here, it's Schubert's "Trio in E-flat, Op. 100," familiar from the Barry Lyndon soundtrack), but Charles Bronson came off like an intellectual compared to what Statham is allowed to show.

The film was mostly shot in unscenic areas around New Orleans. In a possibly unique circumstance, this Chartoff Winkler and Nu Image production was partly produced by David Winkler and Bill Chartoff, sons of the original producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who are among the executive producers this time around.