3 February 2011


Do we have a nickname for Jason Statham yet? I know there's "the Stath", but Van Damme was "the muscles from Brussels" and Schwarzenegger was "the Austrian Oak"- there has to be a better name out there. He's probably done enough to deserve a proper action hardman nickname by now, so someone assign Guy Ritchie, or else send your answers on a postcard.

Statham's latest is The Mechanic, a remake of a 1972 action thriller starring Charles Bronson, and he takes on the title role, as Arthur Bishop. Arthur is a hitman, or "mechanic", who fixes assassinations to look like accidents, and better still, to look like he was never even there. When his mentor is named as his next assignment, he carries out the job, only to feel guilt and responsibility for the guy's slacker son, Steve. Arthur takes on Steve as a protege of his own, trying to give him a direction in life by teaching him how to follow in his father's footsteps.

As with any remake, the first question to ask is why it needs to be remade. Is there anything new to add? Certainly not in The Mechanic, unless you count the presence of the Stath (I'm using that nickname as a placeholder) and a severe dumbing down of the main themes and plot turns of the original film. The result is a film that goes halfway towards existential musings about the stereotypical hitman before plunging off the edge into some diluted version of the stuff with which we normally associate Jason Statham.

I'm a fan of the first instalments in both the Transporter series and the Crank series (haven't seen the other sequels and didn't like High Voltage that much), and so I have a healthy appreciation for Statham's usual OTT action-packed antics. The fun of those films is what The Mechanic lacks in its duplication of that formula. It never goes far enough in one direction or the other to distinguish it as an action-packed character study or as a noisy and enjoyable romp of a thriller.

I seem to remember a time when Ben Foster was touted as the Next Big Thing, but looking at his filmography, I wonder if I might actually have imagined that. He's a good actor, and it's not that good actors are above the likes of Pandorum or 30 Days of Night, but they're the films that Next Big Things do in between the films in which they really, properly get a chance to shine. He's fine in this, but his effectiveness is dulled considerably by playing second fiddle to a meaner, balder and stubblier leading man.

The difficulty with this remake is that it's really difficult to tell why Arthur would carry on teaching Steve what to do after certain mistakes that he makes. After playing Frank Martin and Chev Chelios in separate franchises, Statham's Arthur crystallises somewhere between those roles; between organisation and meticulous attention to detail, and outright fucking insane recklessness. It's also a departure from the cool and disaffected way in which Bronson portrayed the character.

It reminds me of Tony Scott's version of The Taking of Pelham 123, in how that it disassembles its source and puts it back together with automatic deference to every movie cliche that has come into being since the time it was made. This is where much of the story is dumbed down. While the original was hardly what you'd call a women's picture, this new version seems rooted in misogyny, hiding behind the time in which the original was made as an excuse to avoid having to reconstruct female representation as most other films in the last 40 years have. Women are either bargaining chips in testosterone-fuelled stand-offs, or subservient to the men whenever they appear, and that's kind of depressing to see in 2011.

The Mechanic goes by the appearance of having reconstructed the original, but it doesn't actually change enough of what we've seen, and the changes that are made only weaken its standing. A laughable diversion from the original ending just caps off a film that's just not fun enough on the whole to get away with all of its gaping mistakes. The last 12 months or so are what I would call a disappointing year for the Stath, and I hope to see him reaffirm his action hero status with something more enjoyable soon.

The Mechanic is now playing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Mechanic, why not share your comments and Jason Statham nickname suggestions below? It's been a bit of a downer week, this week- I promise tomorrow's review is a positive one.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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