Blu-ray Review: The Mechanic (2011)

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Revisit the Original

The best mechanics can track down, target and eliminate the toughest problem with nary a trace, using such clean precision that if you hadn’t hired them to do the job then you never would’ve known they’d been there in the first place.

But even a top-notch lethal “mechanic” like Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) who treats every new murder-for-hire mission like an assignment he must complete swiftly, coolly, mechanically and with the utmost of detachment is bound to miss his mark sometimes.

Furthermore, the inevitability of friendly fire only goes up after the lone wolf takes on an apprentice cub in the form of Steve McKenna, (Ben Foster) the loose cannon son of Bishop’s late mentor (Donald Sutherland).

Once Bishop’s modus operandi moves from low-key to high-octane, it’s apparent that with the growth of a conscience comes a severe lack of focus for Jason Statham’s antiheroic hitman, which Charles Bronson originated in the eponymous 1972 production.

By abandoning the subtle stealth mode evidenced in the film’s bravura opener, which finds Bishop taking out his mark underwater (in a sequence that plays to Statham’s strength as a former champion diver) in favor of giving into McKenna’s penchant for down-and-dirty rock ‘em sock ‘em violence, both the “mechanic” onscreen and the movie overall loses its edge altogether.

With the overblown excess on display in the remake, the filmmakers seem to forget that the thing that sets The Mechanic apart from other clich├ęd killer thrillers is that screenwriter Lewis John Carlino’s unusual protagonist does everything in his power as a professional contract killer to make his murders-for-hire look like real-life accidents.

Yet from scaling a high rise hotel in broad daylight to hijacking a bus and essentially closing down a densely populated city block, by the time Bishop and McKenna fire off countless rounds of ammo during a laughably over-the-top takedown, the ricocheting bullets triggered enough holes in logic to make the screenplay the ultimate casualty of collateral damage.

Although the tense interplay between the lead actors keeps us watching long after our brains have gone on strike to protest the idiotic script developments, thankfully Carlino’s memorable subversive twist ending remains – save for one major change as a built-in franchise-friendly safety net.

Speaking of safety, Mechanic relies too heavily on action movie autopilot to stand out as recommendable on its own -- except perhaps for fans of Jason Statham. And once again the man best known for being shirtless reminds people not to underestimate him in a performance that's fascinating to watch given his soulful, authentic reactions and the way that even if his part is underwritten, Statham always remains true to the character he’s bringing to life.

Additionally now that we’ve seen Statham’s acting chops on display in The Bank Job rather than his ability to judo chop as in the escapist Transporter series, it’s unfortunate that they didn’t give more for Statham to work with particularly because he’s so well-matched with charismatic character actor (and Ryan Gosling lookalike) Ben Foster.

And even if screenwriter Richard Wenk wasn’t interested in reinventing the wheel, it would’ve been fascinating to explore Carlino’s original intent with regard to the dynamic between the two men, which in early ‘70s version of the script manifested in a homoerotic subtext in their relationship that reminded me slightly of the spin Ben Foster put on his character in James Mangold’s superlative remake of 3:10 to Yuma.

Nonetheless, the flawed film has been given a flawless transfer to Sony Blu-ray high-definition complete with a BD-live feature to sync you up to a “movieIQ” track, even if it’s missing the ultimate bonus presentation in the form of a double feature to see Charles Bronson and Jason Statham tackle the same role back-to-back.

Although the passion that producers David Winkler and Bill Chartoff had for “reimagining” the imperfect but influential first film that had been produced by their fathers is commendable, because after all they had the second chance to get such a clever concept right, I only wish more care had been taken to bring Carlino’s brilliant twist on a murderer who operates like a mechanic of death to creative cinematic life.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.