Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Mechanic: Trying to make a decent contract killer out of a punk-ass loose canon

The Mechanic distinguishes itself almost instantly from your run-of-the-mill contemporary hitman-as-antihero actioner by way of its relative efficiency, dearth of annoying cutting frenzies and absence of ostentatious computer-enhanced tomfoolery. Most pleasingly, it also sports a far more interesting soundtrack than is the norm for a Jason Statham vehicle. Statham’s stoic killer, one Arthur Bishop, digs Schubert and high-end hi-fi, lives in quiet seclusion in the everglades, and is considering purchasing a nice little yacht.

After he’s paid to bump off Harry, his aged mentor—a pleasing cameo from Donald Sutherland in a wheelchair—he attempts penance via playing surrogate big brother and all-round Mister Miyagi to Steve, Sutherland’s ne’er-do-well brute of a son, played with remarkable nuance by Ben Foster, who exercised somewhat similar neuroses as the troubled Iraq vet in last year’s intelligent war-at-home drama
The Messenger. But Steve’s something of a sadomasochist. He gets his kicks from dirty fights and punk-ass recklessness, the antithesis of Bishop’s “Make it clean” mantra. So when Bishop starts subcontracting jobs to the kid of course everything rapidly goes to hell. Meanwhile Steve, ignorant as to who killed dad, starts to wonder why Bishop’s being so nice to him all of a sudden.

Statham’s so rarely used to full effect. It’s refreshing to see him in a picture devoid of splatter, misogyny, sexual assault, inane video game aping, and bad comedy. But this remake of the 1972 film of the same name, which starred Charles Bronson, whose career certainly had its limits but could still serve as an instructive model for the Statham, rarely rises above being a classyish regurgitation of well-worn macho clichés, replete with a gold-hearted hooker who serves virtually no purpose. All of which is fine, of course, which is to say easy enough watch flicker across a screen for 92 minutes. The mostly straightforward direction comes from Simon West, who incidentally hasn’t helmed a feature since
Tomb Raider. His handling of a sequence in which a romantic evening out with two tough guys turns into a monster truck rally for humans is bracing enough. The script was co-written by Lewis John Carlino, who wrote the original, but it feels less updated than resuscitated. It does have one great line: “I’m going to a put a price on your head so high,” Tony Goldwyn’s baddie tells Statham, “every time you look in the mirror you’re going to want to shoot yourself in the face.” I’m glad Statham doesn’t actually shoot his own face, but I kinda wish he’d sever ties with his agent.

Charlie don't slurp

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