With Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, Tony Goldwyn, Jeff Chase. Directed by Simon West. Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity. 92 minutes.
If you’re old enough to remember Charles Bronson movies, you may recall the 1972 “The Mechanic.” In a lot of ways, this remake is a throwback to those violent action films of the 1970s, where no one thought twice about the carnage. If a movie where the hitman is the hero and the audience frequently gets squeamish about a particularly nasty bit of violence is your idea of a good time, THE MECHANIC will tune your engine. It’s sharp, fast-paced, and fully deserving of its R rating.
It’s been retooled for Jason Statham, who plays Arthur Bishop, a killer-for-hire whose attention to detail is such that he’s virtually unstoppable. The script shrewdly makes most of his victims utterly repulsive – the head of a drug cartel, an arms dealer, a murderous cult leader – so that he retains our sympathy. Unfortunately, he’s ordered to take out his mentor (Donald Sutherland) who has betrayed the organization for which they both work, and this leads to unexpected complications. Chief among them is that the mentor’s wastrel son Steve (Ben Foster) is now eager to enter his late father’s business.
Bishop wasn’t planning on taking on a protégé, but he decides to train Steve to do things right: neatly and quickly. The best action, he notes, is when no one is even aware that the victim was assassinated, assuming it to have been a natural death. Ben learns but doesn’t always follow orders, and we know it’s only a matter of time before he realizes Bishop’s role in his father’s killing. They can focus on the evil head honcho (Tony Goldwyn) for the moment, but there’s a score to settle.
This is pulp fiction territory, where torturing people to get information is par for the course, and opening fire may summon your victim’s bodyguards but never the police. The body count is high, making this a film that serves its intended niche action audience, and not many others. Still, the cast plays it straight, and Statham has carved out a nice career in these sorts of films. He’s taciturn, but not wooden, and you get the sense his mind is always working even if he seems to be sitting quietly. He’s not a flamboyant action star in the Schwarzenegger/Stallone mode. He’s more the guy you’d want on your side in a fight and most certainly wouldn’t want to cross.
Foster is interesting as the protégé who won’t follow the rules, and the scene where he’s supposed to quietly take out another assassin (Jeff Chase) may be one of the most over-the-top action scenes we’ll see this year. As the furniture breaks and the glass shatters, you don’t find yourself thinking that these must be breakaway props. It’s says something about Statham that he’s willing to remain off-camera during one of the major action bits in the film.
“The Mechanic” is less about art than commerce. That’s okay. It’s an action film that delivers the goods.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.