Simon West may have invented Rickrolling indirectly. After a stint at the BBC, he got his start as a freelance film director on music videos, including Mel and Kim’s “Respectable” and the Rick Astley clip for “Never Gonna Give You Up”. After moving into the world of commercials, the natural leap was a Jerry Bruckheimer film and he made his theatrical debut with Con Air, before Rickrolling his way through to The General’s Daughter and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Yet with the exception of 2006’s When a Stranger Calls and the pilot episode of Fox’s Human Target, he has been fairly quiet for the last decade. Now he is back with a bang in The Mechanic, a loose remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle of the same name.
Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham, The Expendables) is a professional hit man, or a ‘mechanic’. Taking jobs through classified ads, he lives a fairly solitary life with the exception of his friend and mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland, The Eagle). When the organisation he works for orders him to kill McKenna, he reluctantly does so. However, he soon meets up with McKenna’s estranged son (Ben Foster, The Messenger), who wants to be trained in the way of the assassin and be the protégé he feels his father would want him to be.
The Mechanic actually manages to take us by surprise early on in the piece, shifting gears from a slick by-the-numbers hit man flick to a buddy drama with the introduction of Ben Foster, a completely unheralded development and a welcome change of pace. For a time, it seems as though the film will have more moments of human drama than one should rightly give it credit for. However, the realisation that this faith has been misplaced comes quickly as the relationship shifts again and slides back into master/impetuous apprentice territory that we have seen so many times before. This provides an excuse for what we all turned up for, if we are honest with ourselves: a cool training montage…with guns! It would all be quite romantic, did the film not go out of its way to show McKenna the younger beating a fellow gay assassin (and owner of a small dog) to death with his bare hands. Meanwhile, Bishop keeps an overpaid prostitute as his trophy of heterosexuality. Yet the relationship built between the pair is a fairly genuine one, and while the grizzled geezer Statham and good ol’ boy Foster share some fairly taciturn exchanges, it tends to be enough to share a few masculine moments. In fact, Statham seems to downplay the over-the-top persona we’ve seen in the Transporter, Crank and The Expendables roles we’ve seen to date.
Simon West is quickly becoming the master of the underwhelming remakes and adaptations, from the big screen version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’s video game to the 2008 reworking of When a Stranger Calls. Indeed, The Mechanic is a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same name. Despite a fairly workmanlike script from Richard Wenk and veteran Lewis John Carlino (reworking his own screenplay from the original), the new version of The Mechanic is an incredibly handsome film, slick and put together like a well-oiled machine. The high-octane sequences barely let up once they do kick into gear, and we get everything from repelling down the side of a building to good old-fashioned car chases in the explosive final act. However, the presence of Donald Sutherland only reminds us that everyone involved has done better, and cheques are being cashed in preparation for something more lucrative. West’s The Mechanic may be a little bit less than the sum of its promising parts, but it still manages to provide some mindless thrills along the way.
The Reel Bits: The Mechanic tools with the formula, but it really only amounts to a tune-up. While there is a noble effort at making a foray into the relationship between two manly men, this mechanic has all the parts but doesn’t always put in the labour. Yet the car still rolls out of the garage, and either way we get taken for a ride.
The Mechanic was released 24 March 2011 in Australia by Roadshow Films.