Monday, May 23, 2011

Blogorium Review: The Mechanic (2011)

The Mechanic falls into that unfortunate category of "mid-grade" Jason Statham films, where the movie is neither good enough to heartily recommend but also not bad enough to steer people away. It falls into the same category as War, The Transporter 3, Chaos, and Cellular - movies not good enough to be dumb fun like Death Race or Crank: High Voltage, but not as terrible as Ghosts of Mars or In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. It's not even an interesting side-step, like The Bank Job (a film I happen to think is much better than the rap it gets), or as inconsequential-yet-entertaining like The Italian Job. The Mechanic is watchable, if a bit dull, action oriented if awkwardly staggered, and predictable to a fault, but not necessarily dull.

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a "mechanic," a specialty hit man hired to make assassinations look like accidents. When his boss, Dean (Tony Goldwyn) orders Bishop to kill Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), his mentor, because the elder mechanic apparently betrayed a mission in Capetown, Arthur reluctantly does the job. Much to Bishop's chagrin, Harry's son, Steve (Ben Foster), a human wrecking ball of rage, comes to New Orleans seeking revenge against the unknown assailant. The mechanic reluctantly takes Steve under his wing, training him to kill without a trace (something the younger McKenna is reticent to follow). When it becomes clear that Dean lied to Bishop, the duo plan to take the boss out, but hiding the secret of who killed Harry McKenna grows more difficult the further they push.

Right off the bat, the fatal flaw of The Mechanic - the remake of a film people didn't seem to know existed - is Ben Foster's Steve McKenna. When I say a "human wrecking ball of rage," I mean that McKenna ignores everything that Bishop teaches him every single time they take a "job" and either makes a huge mess out of the hit or nearly gets himself killed. For no reason other than the film mandates master and apprentice stick together, Bishop keeps Steve around: after he ignores instructions on how to kill another "mechanic," after his carelessness turns a successful hit into a public shootout, and even when Steve finally discovers who killed his father, when Bishop has the option to dump and run. Instead, Steve is already living in the mechanic's secluded bayou home, and Bishop can't muster more than an "eh" that his pupil is single-handedly destroying his livelihood.

It would make sense if there was any way that Steve could figure out that Bishop killed his father, but the only reason it happens is a direct result of keeping him in the story. It's fair to point out that the film doesn't set up rules that Bishop should follow and then breaks them; it's the direct involvement of McKenna that sours the kills. At certain points, one has to wonder aloud why Bishop would keep him around at all.

Then again, this is a 90 minute movie that takes a long time to get where everyone knows it's going: after an assassination of a Colombian drug lord and voiceover explanation of what a "mechanic" does, everything moves nicely until Steve McKenna arrives in New Orleans. Then things slow to a molasses while the protagonists dance around each other, toying with something anyone who saw the trailer already knows is going to happen. Hell, what anyone who is following the story knows is going to happen because there's no other direction this film would take.

Speaking of which, I suppose I should do due diligence and mention that aside from the ending and some shifts in how the mechanic and protege bond, this version of The Mechanic isn't that different from the 1972 original starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. Statham doesn't really draw any unfavorable comparisons to Bronson because he's really just playing another variation on the "Jason Statham Action Hero" part he usually plays, which is really only different from usual in that he's less snarky. Oh, and there's a moment where I said out loud "are we supposed to be rooting for these guys?" when Bishop permanently scars an innocent teenage girl by threatening to stick her hand down the garbage disposal. Why? To force a character we've just met into telling him where Dean works.

As much as Ben Foster is a vacuum that sucks the entertaining out of The Mechanic, I guess he's a step up from Jan-Michael Vincent. The original was directed by Michael Winner, who went on to make the first three Death Wish films; the remake by Simon West, who directed Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Believe it or not, it's kind of a wash; The Mechanic is competently shot, without any ridiculous editing flourishes that I noticed. I didn't regret watching The Mechanic, nor was I bored (my patience was tested a few times), and when it was over the general reaction was "it was pretty good."

I would like to mention one amusing moment, something that screams "deleted scene." That's really the only way to explain an otherwise superfluous moment: when Bishop goes to meet Dean about killing Harry, one of the thugs is wearing a "World Champion" ring, and there's a little back and forth while Statham and the bodyguard size each other up:

"Nice ring. How do I get one of those?"

"You can't, unless you're a world champion."

And then Bishop goes off with Dean to talk shop, but the seed has been planted: eventually, the "World Champion" and Bishop will square off and then he's going to take that ring. I mean, we've all seen The Rundown. That's how things work in action movies. Sure enough, just in case we forgot about it, later in the movie Bishop is sitting at his laptop, looking at a picture of the "World Champion" ring online, just before he and Steve head out to take on the bad guys. So where's the payoff? That's the last time we ever see or hear about that ring or Bishop's interest in it. What are you hiding, deleted scenes? What, I say???

 EDIT: For readers who have been checking in to find out what "World Champion" ring appears in The Mechanic, here's a handy visual guide to the scenes from the film:

 So here's the ring . It's a 1992 "World Champion" ring. A Google image search for NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL championship rings doesn't pull up anything that looks like the image in the middle (it looks like an "R").

  Later, Bishop pulls up and a quasi-Google search engine and is looking at a Superbowl World Champion Ring (not the same one from earlier in the film). For comparison's sake, here's a "Miami" Superbowl World Championship ring as featured in The Rundown.

  So what can we say definitively? I'm not sure, but considering how the ring changes (and its significance in the film) something was cut from The Mechanic.

There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than with The Mechanic. I realize that doesn't do wonders as recommendations go, but other than telling you it's not a bad movie, I'm not sure what you'd want to know. It delivers exactly what the trailers promised, with a little padding to fill out the run time. It's neither worth writing home about nor worth avoiding. If you're looking for an action movie you haven't seen yet, and want a middle of the road movie with Jason Statham, The Mechanic is as good as a bet as any of his other movies. You'll get exactly what you pay for, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's just a thing.


Anonymous said...

Seems you missed it, but the ring IS significant. When Bishop needs to find Dean Sanderson, he tracks down his bodyguard through his ring. He then threatens the bodyguards family to learn the location of Sanderson. (the scene at the 74 minute mark, where Bishop appears to puta teenage girls hand in a garbage disposal)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anon for comment.
After I read it, I seeked forward, and saw it.
Arthur tracks the bodyguard by the ring.
I overlooked this upon first watch.
I had forgotten this guy is the bodyguard, from the start of the film at the airport.

kfg said...

And the reason you can't find a match for the ring is because it is fictitious. Like all movie phone numbers starting with 555, because that exchange doesn't exist.

A real ring, like a real phone number, would track to real people, and that would be bad.