I do technically understand that Jason Statham must make movies outside of his Transporter and Crank franchises, but more in theory than in practice. Stath's combination of taciturn English kung fu and low-rent James Bond touchstones (cars, guns, loose women) require action movies energetic and knowing enough to take advantage of them; just ask The Rock if such vehicles are readily available.
In The Mechanic, a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film unseen by me, Statham plays Arthur Bishop, another one of his patented hitmen, this one distinguished by his stealth and solitude. As we see in a pre-credits sequence that's like a creepy assassination version of one of Bond's opening gambits, he's an expert at making contract killing look accidental. After the death of his mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland), Bishop, perhaps hungering for human contact more significant than his regular prostitute, allows Harry's fuck-up son Steve (Ben Foster) to serve as his apprentice. (Unlike George Clooney's similarly lone wolf in The American, Bishop knows better than to compromise his solitude for said prostitute, preferring wholesome father-son murder bonding. Then again, this is no more of a hitman's fantasy than winning the love of a beautiful hooker, and probably significantly less.)
Because he's played by Foster, who in his willingness to play burnouts who might kill you in a snit has become the psychotic man's Giovanni Ribisi, Steve treats the hitman gig sort of like a fight club. I guess this is supposed to stand in contrast to Bishop's coolheaded approach, but the movie doesn't have a clear idea of who Steve is—ticking timebomb or wisecracking young whippersnapper—and neither does Bishop. If that's the point, it's not much of one.
Bishop is supposed to be training his charge in the art of the ghostlike sneak attack, but of course their jobs go wrong on the regular, even without Steve's interference; otherwise Statham wouldn't have much chance to do his running, jumping, punching, shooting thing. These vignettes, with their logistical mini-challenges—fight on a shuttle bus! Shuffle through the crawlspace!—are entertaining enough, but just that: little action-sequence holidays that have little to do with story momentum. In fact, the actual plot of The Mechanic could be addressed in about 40 of the movie's 90 minutes; the rest is just killing time, and also fools, with a smattering of computer-generated gore.
The director, Simon West, logged time in the Bruckheimer factory (in fact, his Con Air is more or less the best of Bruck's A-list trash) before graduating to undistinguished genre junk like the first Tomb Raider movie and the When a Stranger Calls remake. By now, though, junky action movies have become so overcut and CG-fogged that West's generic stylishness looks considerably moodier and more classical than it did in 1997. Not exactly in the gritty 70s mode the producers (sons, naturally, of the original's producers) probably want to evoke; more like a programmer from the late 80s or early 90s by a hack who looks even more competent retrospect, like Stephen Hopkins. The Mechanic ultimately goes nowhere, but at least it doesn't drive Statham into a ditch.
Opens January 28