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‘Mechanic’ doesn’t retune original film

FRIDAY, JAN. 28, 2011

Ben Foster, left, and Jason Statham star in “The Mechanic.”
Ben Foster, left, and Jason Statham star in “The Mechanic.”

Jason Statham is put on fine display in Simon West’s remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson hired-killer thriller, “The Mechanic.”

We’re treated to the Statham stare, the Statham strut, the Statham sternum – because Statham wouldn’t be Statham without Statham shirtless.

It’s a modestly effective but jaw-droppingly violent picture, one that begins with promise but weasels its way into unlike-ability.

It’s also a fairly faithful remake of the original, with Statham starring as Albert Bishop, a high-priced hit man who speaks in euphemisms.

“I do assignments,” he narrates. Those assignments are murders for hire.

The film opens with a gripping Bond-like gambit as a Colombian drug lord is drowned by a scuba-diving Bishop while the man takes a swim in the pool inside his fortress mansion.

West (“Con Air”) sets the tone right off: The violence here isn’t going to be neat and pretty. Every hit this man does will involve victims who struggle and die with a death rattle and who spatter their blood on the lens.

Bishop’s handler is Harry, played with gruff professionalism by Donald Sutherland, who mastered a wheelchair for the part. But then their boss (Tony Goldwyn) orders Bishop to take out Harry, and that’s when things get complicated.

Bishop takes on Harry’s “troubled son” as a protege, an apprentice. Steve is played by Ben Foster (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Messenger”), a violent, drunken drifter whom Bishop trains out of guilt. As long as the kid doesn’t figure out the teacher snuffed his dad, things’ll go fine, right?

But when Bishop finally questions why he had to shoot Harry and becomes a target himself, he breaks his own rules and drags the kid along with him for his revenge spree.

The bad taste the movie leaves in your mouth starts with some of the victims. In finding people who “deserve” their fate, the script points Bishop and Steve at a hulking gay hit man, saying “he likes young boys.”

But if the nearly-30 Steven is his type, that’s not exactly true, is it? You’re just playing into audience homophobia.

The dialogue is watered-down pulp fiction: “Let’s take your training to the next level.” Sutherland does an amazing job of not rolling his eyes at lines about how Bishop needs to be close to somebody, because, you know, “You’re like a machine.”

Screenwriter Richard Wenk doesn’t improve on Lewis John Carlino’s original screenplay. And truth be told, Michael Winner’s plain-brown-wrapper 1972 film, endlessly repeated on TV, is known mostly for vivid killings and a twist ending – as will the remake.


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