What do you think of when someone says ‘Jason Statham’ to you? What images pop into your mind? Perhaps, a cockney’d chap organising bare-knuckle bouts. Or, maybe, you imagine him engaged in very public displays of affection juiced on drugs, booze and energy drinks. How about beating up burly bad guys, shirtless, rolling around in oil? All valid suggestions based on his previous film roles. However, the most interesting thing about The Mechanic, in fact the only interesting thing about this remake of a 1972 Michael Winner film, is the lengths it goes to in order to deny these images.
Statham plays hard-as-nails Arthur Bishop, a gun for hire who goes by the codename ‘The Mechanic’. The film’s opening shows us just how good he is at his profession, dispatching a Colombian official in a conveniently murky swimming pool. On his return, however, the killer’s morals are conflicted when he is assigned to bump off Harry (a wheelchair-bound Donald Sutherland), mentor and only friend. Not only that, Harry’s renegade son, Steve (a painfully intense Ben Foster) is out for revenge against his Dad’s killer and wants Bishop to teach him his methods. This all makes for the prototypical assassin movie’s ‘call of conscience’ as Steve asks Bishop “what kind of person kills someone in a wheelchair?” Apparently, Steve, someone who listens to Schubert.
Yes, at various points in the film, Bishop, whilst preparing for his next assignment, pops on some classical that plays from a retro-chic gramophone. It really is quite strange watching an actor who has made a career out of kicking people and shouting at them in a non-specific Anglo-American accent, to take some time out to chillax to Classic FM.
And the surprises don’t stop there. For the first time in any Statham movie I’ve seen, there is a sincere attempt at character development. We get shots of Jase consumed with guilt, wrapped in solemnity, after having murdered his only friend in the world, and ‘arty’ out-of-focus montages that seek to reflect the characters’ disillusionment with their external world.
It most resembles, or attempts to emulate, the Bourne series, whose subtle plotting and break-neck action scenes succeeded at impressing both mainstream audiences and critics. A fight scene towards the end of the film features highly skilled martial arts and innovative weaponry; Bourne used tea-towels and rolled up magazines, The Mechanic has a pull-out suitcase handle. But most of the time, The Mechanic is short on punch-ups.
I was sat there thinking, ‘do I want more explosions and car chases?’ That was certainly what I expected. But by the end, when Bishop embarks on a vengeance mission against his crooked boss, and his part in Harry’s death is revealed to Steve, the film loses the sense of its, more sophisticated, convictions. It all gets a bit stupid; arty montages are replaced by up-ended buses and character development is usurped by mindless violence. If Bourne had A-levels, The Mechanic is still in pre-school.
Good: The Mechanic is throwaway fun at best.
Bad: It’s ideals of grandeur are short-lived. By the end, interesting character development and a slow-burning story of guilt and deception are replaced by explosions, unnecessary violence and general carnage.