On the press circuit for the impossibly entertaining Crank (2006), a journalist acting above his station asked Jason Statham about the film’s aesthetic. “This ain’t The Godfather, a’rite,” came ‘The Stath’s’ mockney reply. So was born the latest king of the B-movie, a crown he wears with pride in The Mechanic.
A remake of a film that was rubbish in the first place (Michael Winnder’s 1972 sloppy, crawling mess), the eponymous ‘mechanic’ here is Statham’s Arthur Bishop, an elite hitman employed by a shadowy corporate company for his unique ability to take out well-protected bad men the world over without leaving a mess.
The opening sequence deals with an obligatory Columbian drugs baron. Like most of the set-pieces in the film, the scene starts in the middle or near the end. We don’t see the ‘Stath’ plan, prepare or set up – we just see the pay-off and escape, in this case drowning the poor sap in a swimming pool before audaciously wrong-footing enough militia to grace Commando.
“You gotta have a certain mentality for this game,” Statham/Bishop says more than once. This mentality, we can guess, is an adherence to efficiency, an emotional detachment and a stoic ability to not become compromised by anyone or anything.
Bishop lives alone in a designer house hidden in the New Orleans bayous. Occasionally, he drops in to a bar to hook-up, in the most economic way, with an unquestioning call-girl. His jobs are contracted out by two contacts – the old, kindly, wheelchair-bound Harry (Donald Sutherland) with whom he obviously shares a kinship, and the smooth, officious and instantly suspicious Dean (Tony Goldwyn).
But Bishop’s adherence to his craft is shaken to its core by his next target. Dean accuses Harry of betrayal and makes it clear that he must be taken out. Bishop, as the man closest to him, is perfectly positioned. Harry is dispatched with a professional efficiency and a painful reluctance, and thus the perfect cliché is revealed: the perfect killer must now handle a conscience.
This conscience comes in the form of Steve (Ben Foster), Harry’s lay-about disappointment of a son. Steve is everything Bishop is not – impulsive, erratic, arrogant, but he’s devastated by his father’s death. In a gruff show of kindness, Bishop agrees to mentor him so, together, they can avenge his father’s death.
And so an unlikely double-act begins: Statham, with his high-tensile stubble, chest you could dry your clothes on and chin like a battering ram, and Foster, all angular sneers, wiry strength and cracked voice. Steve is a reluctant student, and his involvement on subsequent hits assume an unwanted volatility, a lot of mess, and a great excuse for some seriously violent shoot-em-ups.
If the action didn’t work, it would be as forgettable as the film that spawned it. But Simon West’s shiny and swift direction, inspired by Tony Scott sensationalism and invigorated by a Louisiana blues score, just about manages to grip.
What more is there to say about this film? It’s Ronseal cinema; a safe, straight-up succession of set-pieces sprinkled with some truly brilliant old-school action lines. The best, from a sneering Dean: “I’m going to put so much money on your head that when you look in the mirror, your reflection is going to want to shoot you.”
This ain’t The Godfather, it’s not even Crank, but like any good mechanic will manage, it runs smooth enough.