Seemingly more obvious than many other actors, Jason Statham's films seem to fall into two distinct categories: badass or nearly unwatchable. In the former, movies like Crank and the first two Transporter films make it obvious why the guy has leading man prowess and enough charisma to make him one of the best action movie stars working today. In the latter, misfires like Transporter 3 and War leave us questioning his career choices. Unfortunately, we can now add The Mechanic to that latter category.
A remake of the 1972 film of the same name starring Charles Bronson, this version of the movie has been in development since the early '90s. The original was extremely slow paced (it was the 70's after all) and probably not worth seeing unless you're a huge fan of hitman films. To Statham's credit, he actually signed onto the project with the assumption that they would film the remake with the exact same script as the original. Of course, Hollywood had its way with it and through many different writers and countless drafts, they cannibalized it until the meat of the original was completely lost and we're left with nothing but a very average plot we've seen tons of times before. The film is heartless and - in perhaps the biggest flaw an action movie can have - boring at times.
I got a chance to speak with Statham at the press junket for the movie and he revealed that one of the opening scenes in which his character jumps off a bridge (he performed the stunt himself, by the way) was actually one of a few scenes that were added during reshoots because the film didn't have enough action in it. Funny - even after watching the finished cut of the movie, I still didn't think there was enough action in it. Everyone knows what kind of film this is supposed to be, but what little action there is was displayed in the trailer and the rest of the film trudges through a murky plot in which any semblance of intelligence from the '72 film is left undetected. Ben Foster referred to the movie as "gun porn," but that misrepresents the film as actually caring enough about guns to highlight them in an interesting way. There are a few montage training sequences, but that's about it as far as guns go. So we can't even enjoy it on that level.
Donald Sutherland reunites with Statham and essentially reprises his role from The Italian Jobremake, but, like this movie as a whole, doesn't bring any fun to the proceedings. If you've been reading my reviews for a while, you'll know I'm a huge proponent of having fun in the theater. I'm aware that not every story told on the big screen needs to be light and breezy, but in action films like this where it's clear no one is there to watch the drama of the story unfold, I do expect a certain level of understanding between the director and the audience. I've written about this before, and it still holds true - the director needs to live up to his or her end of the bargain and provide us with, at the very least, a few memorable action scenes to make the film stand out. (To be completely fair, I can't remember another movie in which an SUV drives up into the back of a bus. But it doesn't matter when we don't care about the characters.)
Not surprisingly, the film makes many of the same stereotypical mistakes characteristic of action films of the past few years. It utilizes the "sage black man" character, an alcoholic who sits in a rocking chair on a dock and tells Statham things like, "your heart's telling you you're homesick for a place you've never been." There's also a girl (there's always a girl), but in this movie she's not even important enough to get a name. That's OK - she doesn't know Statham's name; so it's all one big anonymous metaphorical orgy happening in the theater. Sex and violence are one and the same here, evidenced by a scene in which Foster is sitting at a bar after being viciously beaten and a girl comes up to him and says, "I wish someone would hurt me like that." Cut to: sex scene. Yeah, it's one of those movies. But there's one thing I have to credit with making me laugh: a line of dialogue from the main bad guy. "I'm going to put a price on your head so big, your reflection is going to want to shoot you in the face."
The Mechanic makes The Expendables look like a masterpiece - and you'll know that's a semi-sarcastic remark if you read what I thought about that movie. It's not inventive, the story is unclear about certain character's motivations (as if we cared), and even the action - though filmed competently - is just plain boring. Like all of the characters in it, this movie is bland, lifeless, and disposable. Until next time...