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The Mechanic

In Need of Repairs

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

During Charles Bronson’s heyday as an action star, usually in modestly budgeted B-movies, he accepted the lead role in The Mechanic, an existentialist hitman drama-thriller notable for not just Bronson’s involvement, but also for a 16-minute, dialogue-free opening scene, the soon-to-be-clichéd hitman-as-aesthete character, and a surprisingly nihilistic ending.

From that decades-old, semi-remembered B-movie, the central character and storyline are resurrected as an action-star vehicle for Jason Statham directed by Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The General’s Daughter, Con Air). Substituting the original’s languid introspection with visceral action, the remake falters under the weight of several questionable missteps and miscues from West and his screenwriters, Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino (Carlino also wrote the original screenplay).

The Mechanic opens with a James Bond/Mission: Impossible-inspired scene as Bishop, a “mechanic,” death-dealing hitman who follows a strict code about who he kills (more about that later), slips into the heavily fortified compound of a Columbian drug lord, murders him in his pool, and slips out, unnoticed, before the drug lord’s henchmen discover the body. The scene then shifts to New Orleans, the central setting for the remainder of The Mechanic. Post-kill, Bishop relaxes to classical music, and picks up a woman, Sarah (Mini Anden), in a local bar for anonymous sex (an excuse for Statham to go shirtless).

Bishop also meets with his mentor and friend, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). McKenna serves as Bishop’s conduit to the never-named organization or company that employs Bishop as a hitman. McKenna’s boss, Dean (Tony Goldwyn), however, contacts Bishop directly, claiming McKenna betrayed the organization and, thus, forfeited his life.

McKenna’s subsequent death shakes Bishop emotionally. Guilt-stricken, Bishop reluctantly agrees to train McKenna’s revenge-minded son, Steve (Ben Foster), to become a hitman, but without Dean’s approval, a complication that later proves an impediment to Bishop’s longevity (or lack thereof).

Steve’s training leads inevitably toward the revelation of Bishop’s involvement in Harry’s death, which kicks off the predictably explosive third-act that betrays West’s limited budget and imagination. That limited imagination also applies to the decision to simply update the original’s plot with modern technology, bigger explosions, and more varied set pieces, but the remake fails to embrace the original’s existentialist theme or its nihilistic, downbeat ending.

Given that we’re in hitman-protagonist territory, it’s not surprising that West and his screenwriters make multiple efforts to distinguish Bishop from the men he assassinates or his amoral superiors in the unnamed organization. Bishop’s targets are deserving of the extra-judicial justice Bishop effectively, efficiently metes out. The initial targets are standard-issue, stock villains and are so generic that they’ll barely raise an eyebrow with contemporary audiences, but a subsequent target — a hulking gay hitman who works for a rival organization — reveals a regressive, retrograde attitude towards gays on the part of West and his screenwriters.

We’re meant, along with Steve (on his first solo assignment), to cringe and wince when the gay hitman attempts to fondle Steve. The scene that follows is as brutal as it is long (probably the longest in the film). We’re also meant to cheer when the hulking gay hitman gets his comeuppance, less because he’s a hitman than because he’s gay. The second-to-last target, a gluttonous, obese televangelist with a penchant for young, possibly underage girls (and a possible murderer too) won’t win any points with true believers, making The Mechanic difficult to recommend for all but Statham’s hardcore fans.