Monday, January 31, 2011

Mechanical Problems

Sometimes it doesn't take much to get me excited about seeing a particular movie. Violent, explosion-laden films are the easiest to tempt my palette, since they offer maximum excitement with minimal brain activity. I enjoy the mood-laden, intellectual film more than most, but just being able to turn your cognitive center off for a couple of hours to enjoy a show is just as much fun, and that's why The Mechanic was one of my more eagerly anticipated releases this month. A remake of the 1972 film starring Charles Bronson, this title's trailer alone guaranteed gunfights, explosions and more mature content than you could wave an AK-47 in the general direction of. Not unlike last year's The Losers or The Expendables, The Mechanic promised the kind of entertainment normal guys flock to in droves and normal women pretty much ignore altogether.

You might not like Arthur's version of "tag"
In the film Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a "mechanic" or contract killer. Arthur's talents at subterfuge are so good that he can pull off a hit in a remote area without anyone knowing he was ever there. He plans every killing out for every contingency, making him among the most successful assassins in his organization. Things are going fine until his only friend and mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) is assassinated for selling company secrets, and Arthur teams up with and trains Harry's son Steve (Ben Foster) to get revenge on the people who had Harry killed.

And don't expect him to pick up the tab, either
One of the reasons I was so enticed to see this film was that it's precisely the type of film Statham does so well. I remember first seeing him headline The Transporter to great effect, and I've enjoyed him as a performer since first seeing him in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. That's not to say he's incapable of making bad movies (the man WAS in a Uwe Boll film, after all), but a simple, action film of this caliber is the type of thing that goes right up his ally. The plot is swift-moving to keep the holes from being readily apparent, focusing almost entirely on the action when available. Character interaction goes out the door during these scenarios, unless you count people shooting one another as "interaction." The way in which the action is directed is itself hardcore and believable, with only Arthur's apparent perfect executions stretching the feasibility factor a pinch.

The "Rooftop Olympics" are underway
Statham is pretty much what you'd expect from a lead role of this kind. Arthur is played as almost emotionless when it comes to doing the tasks he's assigned, but when he's home he's a refined individual chomping at the bit to let his more emotional side forth. What works so well in this case is that Foster is across from him, playing Steve in the exact opposite formula. Steve is a passionate individual, with a mean streak (not unusual for Foster, looking at his resume) and a passion that comes out explosively during missions. For a pair of leading men, the partnership works wonders, and their scenes together are some of the best the film offers. Sutherland is a heralded performer, and for good reason, but he can't get the good roles like he used to. His role here is interesting, but several performers could have done the same job he did for the little time his character affects the audience. Once he's gone, he's barely left a presence for us to feel, and he's quickly forgotten. Tony Goldwyn does manage to stick around as Arthur's boss Dean Sanderson, but his role is mostly dry. Unlike several villains from similar 2010 titles, however, I actually got the feeling that Dean was dangerous, thanks to a hulking physique and deadpan stare. He was certainly more threatening than Jason Patric or Patrick Wilson.

The Julie Taymor stage play has been plagued by delays...
One thing that did bother me was the lack of strong female roles. I understand the film is a remake of a seventies cult hit, but the entirety of women in this film are servants, prostitutes, whores, or victims, in that exact order. There are no female assassins, no female executives for the agency, not anything resembling a powerful character throughout the film's runtime. While I'd be incorrect in stating that the film objectifies and exploits women, it would be more accurate to suggest that the filmmakers purely didn't think about them at all. THIS should be the film feminists are speaking against... but I guess the lack of award nominations lets it pass.

No, not THE bomb... just a bomb
The action is non-stop, and while the annoying close-up shots mar the on-screen violence at points, on a whole it's better done than your average film of the like. For what faults it has, that's what The Mechanic does well. It might not be as competent as it's originator, but what it does well it does competently and without mistakes. That's not enough to propel it to the top of the heap, however; The Mechanic comes in at #2 for the year. It probably won't be among this year's best, but it can safely be assumed it won't be among the worst either.

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