Adapted from the 1972 Charles Bronson pic, “The Mechanic” has been dusted off and retooled as a vehicle for brawny Jason Statham, he of “The Expendables” and “Transporter” franchise. As directed by Simon West, it’s something of a minimalist thriller — one so light on plot that the narrative lurches, with sporadic effectiveness, from one fatal encounter to the next. While somewhat low-octane by today’s action standards, the mix of revenge elements and the Statham-Ben Foster relationship should keep audiences off-balance and moderately involved, while generating more horsepower internationally than in its domestic ride.
CBS Films has thus far mined a variety of genres in its commitment to midsized, modestly budgeted fare. In essence, this one is the equivalent of the “B” movies that flourished during the original’s era — and it proves middling, and occasionally muddled, on almost every level.
Arthur Bishop (Statham) is introduced as he cleverly dispatches a well-guarded drug lord, achieving the act via an elaborate caper worthy of “Mission: Impossible.” If executed properly, he notes, the trick is to carry out his assignments so “nobody ever knows you were there.”
Alas, it’s a lonely, soulless occupation, and Arthur’s only remotely human relationship is with mentor Harry (a classy cameo by Donald Sutherland). When circumstances lead to Harry’s death, Arthur grudgingly takes Harry’s son Steve (Foster) under his wing, agreeing to show the wayward kid the ropes of the hit-man game.
Beyond the intricately planned hits, though, and the ingenuity that goes into those sequences, the script, credited to Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (working from Carlino’s original), doesn’t exhibit much attention to detail. Nor does the story really begin to head anywhere until about halfway through — long since it has become apparent the boss of the mysterious “company” that employs Arthur, Dean (Tony Goldwyn), is probably not a very good guy.
At that point, what has been an unorthodox, slow-moving action yarn becomes a more conventional shoot-’em-up revenge tale, after having raced through Steve’s apprenticeship and (in what might be the most suspenseful interlude) his first solo kill.
Conveniently, all this takes place in a shadowy world of amorality, where the hit men don’t seem quite as bad, necessarily, because pretty much everyone deserves to die. Set and shot in New Orleans, the movie benefits from that bluesy atmosphere as well as an apparent absence of law enforcement, inasmuch as bodies begin piling up with seldom a hint of pesky police intervention.
Statham’s voice seldom rises above a low rumble, but he’s well suited to these kind of taciturn killing-machine roles. Foster also brings menace to a character otherwise so thinly drawn that Arthur literally recites his resume to provide some clue as to what Steve’s all about.
The most interesting side note, incidentally, might be the movie’s own family-business backstory, with David Winkler and Bill Chartoff producing a remake based on a 39-year-old project brought to the screen by their fathers, Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who are among the half-dozen executive producers credited.
At a little over 90 minutes, nobody will accuse director Simon West’s take on “The Mechanic” of overstaying its welcome; still, more time in the shop to iron out the kinks and pacing would have been time well spent.
As is, the story idles, then lurches into action rather like a polished-up old clunker in need of a comprehensive tuneup.