Blood brothers in arms
Generic remake of The Mechanic goes down with guns ablazin’
People who think they don’t make movies like they used to should check out The Mechanic, a persuasive replica of a 1970s B-film with much of the same genre splatter. It’s a remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson movie, and while it lacks the unique aura of sleazy action, violent sex and squint-eyed revenge of the Bronson oeuvre — he had a unique ability to be imperturbable and bloodthirsty at the same time — it shares the same secret of the stolid, morally corrupt hero: When in doubt, kill everybody.
It stars Jason Statham, an action hero with his own set of skills, including a sense of English command that allows a breath of irony that Bronson lacked. It comes in handy in The Mechanic, because, along with the ability to defeat all comers — Statham characters are not just kinetic, they’re relentless — this particular hero has to show a tinge of regret under all his skills as a trained assassin.
Statham plays Arthur, who is employed by the mysterious and powerful Dean (Tony Goldwyn) to kill people and make it look like an accident. “You see people differently than anyone does,” says Harry (Donald Sutherland), his mentor and friend, who is called on to do some exposition about Arthur’s unique abilities and then in turn be killed for double-crossing the organization. Sutherland, a bit of a mechanic himself, embraces the role as if it were not at all ridiculous.
When Harry is murdered, Arthur feels responsible for his wayward son Steve (Ben Foster from 3:10 to Yuma.) Steve becomes Arthur’s apprentice, learning the ins and outs of making murder look like an accident, although he turns out to be not very good at that part of it. The Mechanic ignites into big, loud and improbable gun battles, most of them edited into that frantic, musicvideo jumble that characterizes so much American street violence these days, to judge by the movies. You’re never sure where anyone is, but it’s pretty clear that Statham is at the business end of the fist or the machine gun, and some disposable villain is at the other.
The film is set in New Orleans, but unlike the movies of the 1970s, which were redolent with atmosphere, it makes only a few cursory nods to the Gris Gris culture. This is Anywheresville, a place where streets explode and there’s never a cop to be seen. There’s a touch of romance, but it’s also tainted: Arthur consorts with a prostitute, a murder victim is made to look like he died of auto-erotic asphyxia, and Steve — sporting an alarming black eye — is picked up in a bar by a woman who says, “I wish someone would hurt me like that.”
That’s love among the disaffected and lethal. Fortunately, like everything in The Mechanic, it doesn’t last long.