By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 26, 2011 at 7:11AM
"The Mechanic" is the prototypical early year action movie -- nothing more and nothing less. Star Jason Statham, who again plays an infallible, lethal bad-ass, seems to have carved his niche as the current go-to guy for B-movie action flicks. The beefy Brit once seemed like a promising heir to the ‘80s blockbuster action hero throne left vacant by Sly and Ah-nold, but with a few exceptions ("The Bank Job," "The Italian Job"), his filmography over the past decade compares more realistically to the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.
A remake of the 1972 cult action flick starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, what may have been original 39 years ago feels derivative and stale in 2011. Statham is Arthur Bishop, a mechanic (code word for assassin to those in the know) who is, to quote Bishop’s mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland), “the best there is.” His specialty is making his killings appear as accidental or natural deaths. This is demonstrated by an opening scene in which Statham awaits a comically clichéd drug kingpin underwater in SCUBA gear to simulate an accidental drowning. After Harry is killed via some rather convoluted circumstances, Bishop takes his son Steve (Ben Foster) under his wing as mechanic-in-training and sets out to enact revenge on the men who duped them.
To give credit where credit is due, "The Mechanic" seems to know what it is, at least at the start. The action and blood come quick, as does a gratuitous but enjoyable sex scene where Statham meets a prostitute at a bar for about two seconds, smiles at her and immediately shags her during a shameless few minutes of good old late night Skinemax soft core. Sadly, as these movies always do, clunky plot lines come stammering back in and weigh down the mindless fun. Anyone who’s ever seen an action movie should be able to pick out the bad guy well before the first act’s close, as well as formulate a pretty good idea as to the direction of the feeble plot twists to come.
If only "The Mechanic" had stayed its course and unapologetically delivered what it knows its audience wants -- blood and the occasional set of ta-tas -- it might have been worth recommending as a guilty pleasure. Instead, it falls into the trappings of so many to come before (probably not a great surprise considering it’s directed by the notoriously mediocre Simon West) which causes time to slow to a crawl, even within the context of its 92-minute runtime.
Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland have seen better days but hey, a paycheck is just a paycheck sometimes. For Statham, he seems to have settled into these kinds of roles and coasts through them effortlessly. With the aforementioned 'Job' movies as well and under Guy Ritchie’s tutelage, Statham has demonstrated brief bits of something, well, better. But perhaps he doesn’t get offered much else these days. Either way, he certainly isn’t doing a lot for any higher career aspirations by continuing to partake in such repetitive material.
For those entertained solely by explosions and bloodshed, "The Mechanic" should pacify in between its clunky storytelling. As Statham and Foster mow down rows of baddies in the climax, West and co. seem to have inserted extra powerful blood squibs into their stuntmen for added emphasis on the nastiest bits of blood splatter. We just found the whole experience to be a bore, from the one-dimensional characters to the paper-thin story to the ho-hum twist ending. If you must see it, just know that you aren’t going to get much you haven’t already seen before. With ticket prices quickly heading north of $10 bucks, you’d do just as well to rent one of Statham’s past efforts instead. [C-] --Jeff Otto