Originally Reviewed – 3/6/2011
Jason Statham is one bad ass mo’ fo’. Seriously, the keister this guy kicks knows no bounds. From building jumping in The Transporter to hanging from helicopters in Crank to trying not to laugh at Sly Stalone’s lines in The Expendables, Statham has defined himself as this generation’s Van Dame, an action hero for the iPod generation. Trouble is, if you saw his starring debut in Snatch, you knew he could do so much more than bash bad guys and look good with his shirt off. Statham has a likable personality and a quick wit that separates him from his contemporaries, a kind of over-muscled bar keep who can spin a good yarn while at the same time fling you out a window for getting too rowdy. Despite this panache, nobody aside from Guy Ritchie has ever been able to utilize his charm and Statham has been largely regulated to loud, testosterone filled action flicks for the last decade. Does The Mechanic solve this problem and let its star fill the screen with charm instead of bulk?
But in fairness to the filmmakers, they really didn’t let any of the films characters live beyond the written word and to be honest, I doubt that was their intention. The Mechanic is a by the numbers action flick that while providing some decent thrills and some inventive ways of dispatching enemies, the film is rife with clichéd situations, poorly drawn characters and missed opportunities. Sure it’s not meant to be more than a brisk ninety minutes beat ’em up, but with a little effort it could have been exceeded that expectation.
Set in modern day New Orleans, The Mechanic stars Statham as hired gun, tasked by men of power to slay other men of power in sneaky, untraditional ways. However, when sent to kill his mentor, played by Donald Sutherland, Statham inexplicitly takes his mentor’s wild child son under his wing (Ben Foster) and trains him to be the very killing machine that slayed his father. The film immediately starts on the wrong foot, doing nothing to establish any of the characters involved. We get a quick scene between Statham and Sutherland, Sutherland hands Statham some cash for a job well done and just when we start to see an inkling of a relationship, it’s BOOM, right back into another action scene. Using the characters a device to get from one action scene to another, we never feel for the participants in the action and, as a result, cease to care.
The characters themselves, however, do a very decent job with the slop their given. Statham, as mentioned before, is fun to watch and Sutherland, for the brief time he’s on screen, also looks to be giving it his all. Foster, however, is the brightest star in this bunch, giving a slightly disconnected but grounded performance. The kid can act, as evidenced in The Messenger and 3:10 To Yuma, and he does his best to find something in the paper thin character presented to him. Still, the efforts of the very decent cast is all for naught as the film degenerates into bloodshed, baseless violence. Perhaps the biggest affront is how the character of New Orleans is treated. Despite being filmed almost entirely in the Big Easy, you never get a real feel for the character of the city, something that I label as a huge missed opportunity.
All in all, The Mechanic is exactly as advertised: a white knuckle thrill ride that never elevates itself above the standard early year action flick archetypes it aspires to. Featuring a dismissible storyline, a cliché ridden script and an ending that makes almost no sense, The Mechanic survives, albeit barely, by the likeability of its cast. Without Statham and company, this film probably wouldn’t have seen a release never alone been viewable. To be fair, there is a place in cinema for pure escapist filmmaking and when it’s done right, it can be damn enjoyable. In the case of The Mechanic, however, the visceral thrills of the action can’t hold up to the pure weakness of the characters involved. Statham and company deserve better than this one noted piece of mid February action flick filler. Here’s hoping, at least in the case of Statham, that they actually get it.
Score – 50%