A remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson killing spree that kick-started the whole hitman genre, this Mechanic faces the same dilemma as many comic-book-based movies: It must refrain from tampering with the original in any way that might enrage cult purists, yet bring something new to the table to impress clueless newcomers.
In his 1972 Mechanic, filmmaker Michael Winner borrowed more than a bit from Hamlet, in large part lending the narrative its dysfunctional-family character depth and longevity beyond mere gunplay. Now, Winner passes on the challenge to fellow UK director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Con Air), to not muddle his own makeover, or upstage storytelling and star power with any state of the art explosives.
Which in effect leaves Jason Statham and his rather narrow range facing multiple predicaments as both actor and character. Not the least—Hamlet aside—in somehow filling Charles Bronson’s legendary shoes.
Statham snarls, growls and fastidiously massacres his way through The Mechanic as Bishop, a Big Easy professional assassin on the payroll of a high-end killer corporation. Bishop prides himself on his success rate, by adhering to three steadfast principles: hits must look like accidents, cast suspicion entirely on someone else, or send a message to the survivors.
But when he’s assigned to murder his own aging, disabled mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland), who is a suspected whistleblower, Bishop’s tidy world is in shambles. Though when Harry insists that Bishop kill him or someone else inevitably will, the heartbroken hitman reluctantly obliges.
Worse come to worst, though, when Harry’s hotheaded druggie offspring Steve (Ben Foster) arrives, intent on tracking down his dad’s killer. And Bishop distracts the kid from any suspicions while at the same time dealing with his own guilt issues, by taking the scary, impulsive apprentice under wing and teaching him the treacherous trade that may ironically seal his own fate.
More a high octane pissing contest than anything else, The Mechanic revolves around which contender can blow up unsavory people and expensive stuff bigger and better. But there’s just something too dramatically distant between Statham and Foster—as bonding and unbonding alternates with endlessly detonating and overly elaborate explosive devices—that never allows quality emotional connections sufficient breathing space to kick in.