The Mechanic can best be described as a typical Jason Statham action film in almost every possible way. There are a number of explosions and action sequences involving both gunplay and fisticuffs, and the plot is pretty standard-order but executed in a way that is not unduly boring. In short, it's a respectable action effort which compensates for lack of depth and drama with tight pacing and a number of tense, exhilarating action sequences. The "hook" of 2011's The Mechanic, though, is that it's a loose remake of the largely forgotten 1972 Charles Bronson action vehicle of the same name. However, this is one of those remakes done right; retaining the basic premise and a few plot twists, but updating various aspects of the story, changing narrative elements, and generally producing a fresh take of the classic which spawned it. Sure, there is not much difference between this and some invisible direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray action flick except for a bigger budget and laudable technical competency, but The Mechanic is a fun action ride destined to please its niche audience.
A high-value assassin known as a "mechanic", Arthur Bishop (Statham) specialises in developing intricate schemes to eliminate his targets; either framing other people for the murder, or staging the deaths as accidents. When Bishop's mentor Harry McKenna (Sutherland) falls under suspicion of leaking sensitive information pertaining to the company Bishop works for, Bishop is assigned to kill Harry, which he reluctantly does. Soon thereafter, Bishop happens upon Harry's depressed and angry son Steve (Foster), who haphazardly vows to avenge his father's death. On a whim, Bishop takes the reckless young man under his wing and chooses to train him in the art of assassination as an apprentice. An adept pupil, Steve soon begins carrying out assignments and accompanying Bishop to kill marks, but his apprenticeship was not sanctioned by the company...
A picture aimed squarely at the male demographic, The Mechanic racks up a large body count, serves up a few good explosions, contains gratuitous sex scenes, and generally supplies the goods for 90 minutes as if nothing but pure testosterone and adrenaline was in the script's fuel tank. The story is a simple one, and the driving force is action rather than dramatic growth. Unfortunately, the juicy dynamics that define the Arthur-Steve relationship are not explored to their fullest or most satisfying extent - here was a story ripe for psychological underpinnings and intense character interaction, but these ideas were reduced to minor sound bites since the filmmakers were more interested in the superficial. With that said, though, it is relieving that the script by Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) and Lewis John Carlino (who wrote the original 1972 film) never tries to play grandiose and tie what's happening into a larger, more topical world view. The world of these professionals is established, and the scope is narrowed, making for a good fun time at the movies without being weighed down by any unnecessary detours. The Mechanic eventually wraps up with an ending that will polarise viewers. On the one hand it's extremely badass, but it does lack the delicious irony of its predecessor.
At the helm of The Mechanic was Simon West; a capable action director whose previous credits include Tomb Raider and Con Air. West's adept touch when it comes to action and pacing goes a long way to making The Mechanic so much fun. Skilfully crafted, the film runs smoothly and refuses to pause for any great length of time in between the action. Of course, the action scenes are not overly unique, but they are hypnotic and badass, with old-school mayhem unfolding, bullets being sprayed, and blood splattering all over the place (though some of it is digital, unfortunately). Excellent stunt work and fight choreography bolsters the action, as does the use of practical effects - for car crashes and vehicular mayhem, the filmmakers employed an old-fashioned trick known as crashing cars and destroying actual fucking vehicles. This stuff makes the action more intense, exciting and visceral than CGI ever could. Logic is usually thrown to wind, but, with solid production values, who cares?
What's interesting about The Mechanic is that there are no good guys here, just stoic assassins, evil corporate bigwigs, and a few douchebags waiting to be killed by assassins. However, Arthur Bishop is at least given some depth and shown to have a soft side. With Bishop carrying out multi-million dollar contracts, he can afford a quaint house decked out in fine art and soothing music, making him a man with an interest in culture on top of his killing instincts. A throwaway subplot is also present involving an understanding, good-spirited woman (Anden) who has sex with Bishop in passing. Said subplot is underdeveloped, but it at least affords a degree of humanity to Bishop's character. And in the role of Bishop is Jason Statham. While it's true that Statham has become typecast, he remains one of the few true action stars left, and his tough guy persona is fitting for the role previously played by Charles Bronson. Statham does not step out of his comfort zone here, but who cares? He can kick ass with the best of them, and gets to do a lot of that in this flick. Meanwhile, in the part of Steve McKenna, Ben Foster is intense and serious-minded, coming across as a stoic, efficient killer. Tony Goldwyn and Donald Sutherland also appear, both of whom afforded a great deal of convincing intensity to their roles of Dean and Harry (respectively), as well as adding a bit of class to the film.
The Mechanic was designed and marketed as a Jason Statham vehicle, and it ticks all the boxes in this respect. The nitty-gritty of the story might not have been fully explored and it's not as good as the original film (which was more of a character study), but director Simon West once again proves he has not lost his touch. Perhaps The Mechanic is underdone and empty, but it delivers so well in the entertainment department and thus it does what it says on the tin, so who cares about its inherent deficiencies?