If you learn one thing from The Mechanic, the buddy action remake of the 1972 film of the same name from Simon West (ConAir, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), it’s to be more cautious on Craigslist. Answer an ad for what seems like a routine spark-plug installation and you might end up volunteering to drown a Colombian dignitary in his lap pool. See, “mechanic” is code for an elite assassin, the kind of guy who scowls and wears mock turtlenecks and likes to walk away casually from burning buildings.
That guy is Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham, steely as a girder but decidedly less hirsute than Charles Bronson, who originated the role), a high-end hit man who’s totally committed to his job, so much so that when his boss (Tony Goldwyn) asks him to take out his mentor, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), who’s suspected of tipping off a target, he agrees. But once he’s dispatched his old friend, a new problem arises: Harry’s son, Steve (Ben Foster), a dropout alcoholic with a sizable chip on his shoulder, shows up and demands to learn the trade. When it becomes clear that Steve plans to use murder as a means of anger management with or without training, Arthur takes him on as an apprentice, but the learning curve is rough. Arthur is all about elegance and precision (to a ludicrous degree—in addition to his all-turtleneck wardrobe, he lives in a glass house overlooking a tranquil lake and listens to classical music to unwind), while Steve likes it dirty. When instructed by Arthur to seduce a gay assassin from a competing firm by drugging his wine at a bar, Steve goes off course, engaging in a gruesome battle that finally ends courtesy of multiple stab wounds with a fire poker. Steve is a loose canon, and Arthur only takes pity on him out of guilt for killing his father—it’s clear from the beginning that this won’t end well.
The Mechanic runs on violence, and when no one’s being riddled with bullets or getting their hand shoved into a garbage disposal, it lags. That said, the “action” sequences are so frequent and bloody that they render plot nearly obsolete: Who has time for faux father-son bonding when there are buildings to rappel down and drug dealers to auto-erotically asphyxiate? Statham and Foster are fine actors, but each is too consumed by his own scowling to react much to the other. Foster, at least, shows some depth beyond his mask of grief and rage that occasionally veers into constipation, but Statham is robotic, even during an extended, gratuitous sex scene with a leggy prostitute. (“You’re a machine … but you need companionship,” Harry tells Arthur in an early scene. With lines like that, we’re lucky he was offed.)
The only thread that holds real dramatic tension is the inevitable showdown between Arthur and Steve—their bloody honeymoon can’t last forever—but its climactic resolution seems bland and unsurprising even though it involves not one but two exploding cars. (Really, the most impressive feat is that neither man gets arrested after setting fire to what looks like half of New Orleans in broad daylight.) In the end, despite its flashy machismo, The Mechanic is like a Beretta loaded with blanks—quick and brutal but ultimately empty.
The Mechanic (R) ★★☆☆☆