Also opening this week:
A couple years before they hit it big with the classic revenge flick Death Wish, director Michael Winner and star Charles Bronson made the interesting hitman drama The Mechanic, co-starring Jan-Michael Vincent. The Mechanic (1972) is not a classic – story and pacing issues almost turn it into a drag – but it features a number a redeeming qualities: memorable individual sequences (the dialogue-less 15-minute opening, a chilling attempted suicide), terrific set design and location work in SoCal and Italy, some neat how-did-they-do-that stuntwork, and a great – great – ending.
Flash-forward 40 years and here´s the inevitable remake (even though the original is somewhat obscure, lacking critical or box office success or a cult following), directed by Simon West (Con Air, Tomb Raider) and forged into a Jason Statham actioner. A somewhat subdued Ben Foster co-stars in the Jan-Michael Vincent role as the hitman´s apprentice.
It´s slick, polished entertainment; West is a proficient technician, and the action scenes are competently handled. Screenwriter Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) has filled in some of the gaps in Lewis John Carlino´s original screenplay, clarifying some details and altering others while updating to the present day (in the original, a sign of Bishop´s opulence is his use of an audio cassette (!) to play classical music); generally, though, this is the same story.
Only problem: it´s missing everything that made the original memorable. This Mechanic is a disposable junk food action movie, and it´s fine as far as that goes – for late-night TV viewing, you could do far worse. But when a clearly superior original is still around, the remake suffers doubly in comparison: it´s just not as good, and it vaguely insults the memory of the earlier film. And they really screwed up the ending.
Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a cold-blooded Jackal-like hitman who makes a living offing people for a mysterious corporation headed by “Dean” (Tony Goldwyn). But the people he kills are all bad guys, we presume, so it´s OK: no moral conflict here. When Bishop´s friend and handler Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland) is set up, Bishop starts looking for answers – and targeting those responsible in his own personal vendetta.
In addition to this, McKenna´s son Steve (Foster) finds out just what Bishop does, and takes an interest in the profession. Bishop, feeling sorry for the kid, takes Steve under his wing and trains him in the art of assassination. They go out on a mission together (the film´s one big, memorable action set piece – which starts out atop a high-rise and winds up on the streets below) before taking on the men who wronged Harry.
The majority is the film is all well and good, delivering the expected action, moving along at a reasonable clip, never overstaying its welcome. But if you´ve seen the original, you notice the small changes they´ve made along the way – to the character´s relationship, and their situation – and you wonder where it´s going; surely, they can´t use the same ending. And then the ending comes and it´s almost shot for shot from the original, minus one huge change in the who-lives/who-dies department. Only now, the ending makes no sense, and it just drives you up the wall; it´s the one big failure of this remake, and will annoy and confuse most viewers, especially fans of the earlier film.
Statham, however, as the suave-cool killer, comes out of The Mechanic unscathed: he´s no Charlie Bronson, but he seems to be the only action hero game in town in this post-Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis world (what´s the competition – The Rock? Vin Diesel?) and he churns in another actioner here like clockwork. I´ve appreciated a good deal of his work: The Bank Job, the Transporter films – apart from the third – and Crank and Crank: High Voltage (I even liked his dramatic(ish) turn in London), and I look forward to his next, Killer Elite . I only pray it isn´t a remake of the 1975 Peckinpah.