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The Mechanic

dir: Simon West
[img_assist|nid=1387|title=If Jason Statham wants to do ballet in the middle of an action flick who is going to argue with him?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=300]
There are remakes and then there are remakes. In theory, and it’s a very Hollywood-based theory, anything remade that puts Jason Statham in the lead role is going to be inherently better than the original, and will make lots of dollars because everyone loves Jason Statham.

Surely, he’s a household name? Your mum even knows who he is, clucking her tongue at his violent onscreen antics, but finding him a charming man all the same. Although she probably doesn’t remember his name.

As strange as it sounds to assert, Jason Statham would have to be the biggest action star in Hollywood currently. Who else has been in as many arse-kicking, explosions and tits movie recently? He’s the king, and he’s uncontested, for now.

Though I can’t really figure out why.

Sure, he looks like he’s carved from granite, and acts like it, and can glower with the best of them, but surely someone needs something more than that to climb to the lofty heights of action moviedom?

Apparently not. This is a remake of a Charles Bronson flick from 1972, which I remember mostly for the long stretches forgoing dialogue, and the relatively slow pace for a flick of its kind. Also, Chuck Bronson is a god, and was always the best thing about any of the great or crap flicks he was in. It posited the idea of a contract killer meticulous and patient in his actions and planning, who, at his best, killed people without it even being known that they’d been assassinated.

Now, of course, the idea is commonplace in these kinds of hitman-for-hire flicks, because it makes it look like these characters are geniuses. You know, admirable intellects and cultural aesthetes and total badasses.

They’re not geniuses. They’re usually morons. A cursory glance at the legacy of the Melbourne Underworld murders immortalised in the Underbelly series is that none of these thugs-for-hire who murdered for money or kicks could have finished a Sudoku puzzle without help, let alone planned something to kill their targets and avoid detection completely.

The best recent flick I saw with this set-up was the awesome Hong Kong flick Accident, where a team of assassins did this stuff well. That required a screenplay and a director competent and intelligent enough to think up and make it look like a team was implementing a brilliant scenario.

The Mechanic, this version at least, tells us the scenarios and the protagonist are brilliant, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The opening scene has one of these brilliant undetectable assassinations of a drug baron, which is not only quite the opposite of clever, but so contrived that it makes the premise seem even more unbelievable than I thought possible.

Honestly, it doesn’t detract from the flick that much, because that’s not where the flick’s strengths lie. Most people are watching this because Jason Statham is Jason Statham. I watched it because I liked the Bronson flick, and because I really, really like Ben Foster, who plays the apprentice / vengeful son character.

Bishop (Statham) kills the guy in his pool, and miraculously gets away with it, because the plan is completely amateurish to my unskilled eyes, but it establishes him as some kind of badass. He then hooks up with his mentor/handler (Donald Sutherland, who’s looking very old, and whose characters die in almost every flick he’s now in, which is not a bad thing) and talks about money and stuff. Statham grunts every line of dialogue he delivers. He then visits a prostitute so that we don’t have any suspicions that he’s gay.

Bishop is forced to do something which he doesn’t want to do out of loyalty, but it leads to Bishop meeting up with his mentor’s troubled son Steve (Ben Foster), who’s a bundle of trouble but a quickstudy as well. He takes Steve under his wing and teaches him the trade of people killing for money. Steve proves quite adept at it, but isn’t really coming from that ninja/zen place of making it look like the assassin was never there. He’s there for maximum carnage, and he’s great at it.

Every assassination from then on goes awry and very wrong, but it doesn’t matter, because no-one’s asserting that these guys are geniuses anymore. They’re just really good, now, at shooting people and using buses and trucks to kill their enemies, instead of using undetectable injections, slippery concrete and random bits of tainted sushi to achieve their ends.

It’s hard to even describe whether there’s a relationship between Steve and Bishop, because Statham is such an inscrutable lump of matter. You could never accuse him of giving away too much emotion. I bet he’s great at bluffing in poker. I don’t think anyone will ever accuse him of overacting (the Crank flicks don’t count, because they are insane movies for insane people) in this life or the next. His range goes something like this: glower-grunt-smirk-growl-punch-grunt-rinse-repeat.

But we’re supposed to infer that Bishop is motivated by guilt, and wants to help Steve construct a life for himself, seeing as he was a complete fuckup up until he became an assassin. Now, with the appropriate self-help motivation that comes from deciding to make a career out of killing people for money, Steve’s life is looking up.

Ben Foster does play cinematic psychos pretty much all the time, but I really think he’s great at it. To say that his intensity and nervous energy blows Statham acting-wise off the screen is an understatement of the highest order. He’s a joy to watch.

Speaking of blowing guys off the screen, a lot of reviewers and commentators have commentated and reviewed that there is some kind of gay subtext, or overt homoerotic text to the flick, which I think is completely misplaced. The original screenplay to the 1972 flick did actually have the explicit plot element that the mentor / apprentice core relationship in the flick between Bishop and Steve was sexual. But anyone who thinks Chuck Fucking Bronson would play such a character and indulge in onscreen antics implying his character was gay clearly would have a Death Wish of the highest order.

I mean, honestly, what the fuck was the screenwriter thinking? He’s lucky The Mechanic didn’t Mechanic his arse into oblivion using a toothpick, a rubber band and an engine block through his goddamn head.

There really isn’t such an element in this flick (between Bishop and Steve at least, the churlish critics projecting what they may). There is, however, clearly a strange homophobic / gay panic element to it. Even ignoring the ‘grooming’ element of the way Bishop prepares Steve for his new career, Steve’s first job involves killing a very large gay man. Bishop uses Steve because he’s young and thin, and attractive, I guess (if you’re into redheaded psychos, and honestly, who isn’t). If you chop out the beginning and what comes after, for a while it looks like Bishop is a pimp preparing his bit of rough trade for a working life on his knees.

Though Bishop’s meticulous plan is supposed to be completely low-risk, low-impact and virtually undetectable, Steve instead lets the guy take him home, put the moves on him, and then kills him like he’s horrified by the chap’s advances, and by what he nearly allowed himself to enjoy doing.

Soon afterwards, he’s having rough sex in an alleyway with some random girl he meets in a bar, in a desperate attempt to reassert his heterosexuality.

You’re not fooling anyone, little Stevie. Least of all the fearsome Bishop, who sees through the closet door with his X-ray super hetero eyes, and who peers into the depths of your bi-curious soul.

And then shitheels like this director wonder where the critics get their material from, making these insinuations and accusations. Where indeed…

This director, being Simon West, has only made one other film worth the polycarbonate its DVD was etched on, being Con Air. Con Air is a deliriously absurd and enjoyable action flick with no sense of seriousness and a lunatic air of action cliché piled onto open-mouthed, mouthbreathing action. This flick is nowhere near as good as Con Air. Con Air I’ve watched dozens of times. If I ever watch this flick again, it’s only because I enjoy watching Ben Foster in everything that he does. But it’s a competently fleet example of the genre, at the very least. It moves along. It’s got guys killing other guys, which guys like watching, so I guess it qualifies as a competent guy flick. It’s slick, and despite its mild pretentions, it’s well done enough for what it is.

Still, there are probably better flicks out there, even more enjoyable Jason Statham flicks. Surely he’s made another couple of Crank and Transporter flicks since I started this review?

Ultimately, though, I knew Charles Bronson. I watched Charles Bronson. I loved Charles Bronson. And you, sir, Jason Statham, are no Charles Bronson.

6 times they should have left the ending well enough alone out of 10

"Hey Ma, how about some cookies?"
- "No dice."
"This ain’t over." – fighting words from Bronson, Missouri on The Simpsons