Saturday, 5 February 2011

'The Mechanic' review:

Homo-erotic muscular toplessness? Manly scenes of unnecessary car maintenance? Evil South American drug lords? Homophobic, racist and sexist sub-text (and in many cases text)? A plot revolving around the theme of revenge? A lack of all humanity and compassion? A cruel sense of humour? Insanely violent and yet wonderfully creative martial artistry? It must be this month's Jason Statham actioner, this time 'Con Air' director Simon West's 'The Mechanic' - a remake of a 1972 Michael Winner movie starring Charles Bronson, which I have never heard of and will probably never see.

Like much of The Stath's output, 'The Mechanic' alternates between the intentionally and accidentally hilarious as its functionary plot serves to get its functionary leading man from set-piece to set-piece within a tidy 93 minute running time. The story is as follows: when the shady international assassination company he works for requires him to kill his friend and mentor (Donald Sutherland), "Mechanic" Arthur Bishop (Statham) attempts to soothe his crisis of conscience by adopting his mentor's bereaved son Steve (Ben Foster) and teaching him - in what seems like a couple of days - to become a world class contract killer. But will Steve find out who really killed his father? Will he be forced to kill his new found mentor and friend? Will the killing ever stop?!

Like everything from 'The Transporter' to 'Crank', 'The Mechanic' is at once brilliantly brainless and utterly repugnant. Our oddly charismatic meat-puppet of a hero gruffly whispers what lines he is given and uses his full acting range, going from quite pensive to extremely pensive - often within the same scene. There is one amazing bit of shared screen time for Statham and Sutherland in which the former looks thoroughly confused and slightly disorientated by what amounts to standard fatherly chatter. But it's hard, nay impossible, not to like Statham. To quote Randy Newman, "he may be a fool but he's our fool" after all and I really enjoy watching this slightly naff, extremely ordinary looking British guy in American movies. He's like the Beverly Hills version of a Mitchell Brother, with his designer sunglasses and leather jacket.

The world of 'The Mechanic' is the stuff of reactionary right-wing tabloid fantasy. At one point Steve decides he wants to kill a car-jacker (don't ask) so he parks his car in a poor neighborhood for a few hours and waits until a black guy duly turns up and puts a gun to his head. One target is a super-hard rival hitman, but he has one weakness: he is a total gay. This means that all Steve needs to do is sit near him in a cafe and wait to be hit on. That is seriously the plan... and, in this twisted, paranoid reality, it works. Then there is the film's opening murder (sorry, I mean "job") which takes place in "Colombia, South America", as with last summer's 'The Expendables' and 'The A-Team' South Americans mean bad news. The cavalcade of stereotypes and thinly veiled bigotries doesn't end there. Every woman seen in the film immediately propositions our heroes and beds them within about ten seconds, usually for pay. (Yes, it really is shocking that those Sky Sports presenters were so backwardly sexist in this day and age - because most of our mainstream entertainment is so enlightened and mature, no?)

Arthur is (of course) a cultured killer though. We know this because he listens to classical music and has a swanky modern house. He has his own code and method of doing things (like every other hitman in the last hundred years of cinema before him) that stops him from being just a nasty murderer. Only, doesn't such cold methodology make him a psychopath? Not if you get paid for it, apparently: then it's just business. Maybe that's intended as a satirical comment on the inherent madness of an economic system that forsakes the spiritual and metaphysical for cold market forces... though probably not. It's probably just rubbish, hackneyed nonsense. But it's got tits in it and guns and explosions and The Stath. Got to love The Stath.

'The Mechanic' proves how sodding hard it is to get an '18' certificate from the BBFC these days. Statham threatens to put a young girl's arm in a food processor whilst interrogating her father - in a scene that was genuinely pretty frightening - and the film generally shows you the moments of violent impact most movies forgo in the name of sanitised palatability. We see a man get his head smashed in by an oncoming car. We see a man hit the ground after a fall. We see loads of blood coming out of each gunshot wound. Only it's strangely not particularly visceral or gory because it's all so silly and so clearly CGI. Maybe that's why they get away with the '15'.

For all my flipplantness, 'The Mechanic' is as solidly made - from a production value and direction point of view - a Jason Statham vehicle as there has ever been this side of 'Snatch'. Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland are both good to watch, although the latter isn't in the film for more than five minutes, and (as I've already said) the fight choreography is often impressive, even thrilling. I laughed a lot as I watched it, even if often for the wrong reasons and I was never bored. If you don't care whether a film's heart is in the right place and if you don't mind if the lead actor can't act on even the most basic level, then you might just end up loving the sheer lunacy of this latest explosive, stunt-filled Statham-fest.

'The Mechanic' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is out in the UK now.

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