When paired with the premise, the title "The Mechanic" suggests a blue-collar approach to professional killing: get in, get the job done, get out. To that end, the film's title character, Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) agrees, explaining in voice-over that the best jobs are the ones where nobody even knows he was there. Although Arthur is successful this kind of evasion, the movie is all "close, but no cigar". For a film assigned to the dreaded January dumping grounds, there's an admittedly beefy fistful of entertaining gunplay, but this remake of a Charles Bronson vehicle lacks a crucial measure of workmanlike focus from director Simon West (Con Air), and bobbles the audience's sympathies in the final act.
Firstly, the movie is almost dead on arrival, kicking off with Arthur pulling off an underwhelming "job" lacking in scope or danger, which is immediately followed by another 10 or 15 minutes of suffocatingly boring backstory. Please, Hollywood: I don't think there's an audience member alive that doesn't understand at this point that professional assassins methodically and unemotionally sit around in expensive, elegant houses, listening to classical records, meticulously studying hidden bulletin boards of black-and-white photographs, and that they don't have any real friends other than long-time, wisened business associates, and the goofy friendly nobody to whom they have indicated their dream of quitting and owning a boat.
Things pick up slightly when Arthur is hired to kill Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). The only problem is that Harry McKenna is Arthur's trusted business associate. Arthur hesitates, but does the deed, only to discover that Harry's death has cut his son Steven (Ben Foster) loose with almost no money and even less ambition. Rather than leave Steven to jail, or perhaps suicide, Arthur decides to take Steven on as an apprentice, teaching him the daily grind of "mechanic" work. Their relationship is the engine driving the film, which gets exponentially better as the two start bonding. If there's a complaint to be had, it's that Foster gets to be funny while Statham plays the straight man; it'd be nice if an American film would give the actor as much wit as his initial Guy Ritchie films. Oh, well.
At the helm, West shows startling signs of directorial ADD. In addition to being expositionally boring, the first 25 minutes are also directorially dull, like a cable TV show trying to squeeze imaginary dollars out of its budget by bathing everything in overly rich lighting. When Arthur and Steven start training, West switches to some cool but basically random slow-motion footage of bullets slamming into car seats, only to shift again with a bafflingly arty, rack-focus-heavy montage where Steven gets drunk. West even struggles with the soundtrack, with pre-recorded tunes feeling like they're barging in on the movie whenever they cue up. The director finds solid footing in the action, which he stages with satisfyingly brutal panache, but he's all over the map, failing to gather the style of the film under a single umbrella.
For 50 minutes, The Mechanic slides into an efficient clip, slipping by the less-than-original plot points and delivering enough bloodshed to keep action fans happy, but it stumbles in the home stretch. The question of whether Arthur should've killed McKenna hangs over the film, and there is a surprisingly subtle scene between Statham and Foster where Arthur acknowledges, in a way, that he's made peace with whatever fate karma has in store for him. Instead, the film goes for a weird riff on the original ending with a decidedly nihilistic twist that isn't entirely convincing. On one hand, there's no reason the film shouldn't follow up its pleasing brutality with a immoral conclusion, but it's another case of the film's roving aim. More setup would be nice, but it isn't hard to hit the dartboard when the director's throwing wrenches.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.