The iconic bald white guy John McClane is no longer allowed to say his catch phrase on screen, or shoot people who actually ooze blood. So it’s good to see another bald white guy take up the action film banner in all its messiness.
Jason Statham plays Arthur Bishop, a
cleaner mechanic, who whacks guys with the skill to make them look like accidents. Things get dicey when his wheelchair-bound boss Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland) is killed, and McKenna’s vengeful son Steve (Ben Foster) comes looking for an education in the assassin business.
From The Transporter to Crank, Jason Statham is a wrecking ball: you wheel him in to rock the house, but if you’re looking for something more riveting between action feats (character development, acting, etc), you need a different tool. Which is where Ben Foster is useful. In the critical darling The Messenger or The Mechanic Foster vibrates with a centered zen that draws you in. Statham may have a menacing mug, but Foster, as the enigmatic Steve, upstages the action star at every turn.
Neither actor benefits from Simon West’s direction, since most action scenes are close enough to make out nose hairs, but none of the fisticuffs. Where Statham’s physical virtuosity could be showcased, West forces us to be in the scuffle with nary a notion of what’s going on. This film doctor prescribes some wide shots from a Jackie Chan film.
Despite directorial issues, some action pieces escape mangling. Hand-to-hand combat is particularly brutal when small-statured Steve goes up against a 300 pound foe and his clever shots with a Glock 9mm make him an admirable badass.
The brutality of these scenes is a change of pace since we’ve been raised by a decade of PG-13 cop films that avoid the F-Bomb or bits of blood that get a film slapped with an R rating (which equals lower box office receipts and restrictions on advertisements). Foster and Statham dispatch goons in such varied, messy ways you almost feels sorry for the hapless henchmen. The film’s blood lust is as dark as its blood stains.
MAJOR SPOILERS, SKIP PARAGRAPHS
What’s most disappointing about The Mechanic is that it looks to conclude with a poetic equilibrium, yet trades it in for a perfunctory ending that leaves an opening for a sequel.
One of the plot twists to the film is that Arthur is told Harry McKenna crossed the company they both worked for. Arthur kills Harry (who tells Arthur, “I’m glad it was you,”); this leaves dangling tension between Arthur and Harry’s son Steve. Once Steve knows Arthur killed his father, the two men stop at a gas station. At this point each of them knows the truth, but neither let on. Which makes it all the more meaningful when Arthur tells Steve, “I’m sorry about everything,” in a vague unrelated way, possibly hinting that he knows what Steve is about to do.
Steve walks away from the truck while pumping gas and shoots the gas tank, engulfing Arthur’s truck in flames. He then goes back to Arthur’s place. A sports car Arthur has been working on is now completed and Steve takes it for a spin. He sees a piece of paper in the passenger seat which tells him “If you’re reading this, you’re dead.” Steve good-naturedly lols before being blown up.
A nice, reciprocal, poetic ending for a couple of assassins.
The film cuts to security camera footage of the truck explosion, which shows Arthur rolling away in a comical fast-forward – rewind loop. We then cut to a close up of Arthur leaving the crime scene and driving away in a truck he just happened to have stationed nearby for just such a random occasion.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this ending – it’s just not as fresh as the one hinted at. Having Steve kill our lead guy went against tired action film tropes. The ideal ending would have had Steve drive away with Arthur’s sports car (a changing of the guard) or even having them both kill each other, Steve’s last words being laughter. That would have been something to talk about.
But no. Kill the most interesting character and leave the block of wood, Statham, standing to live another day – or star in another installment.
MAJOR SPOILERS OVER
Yes, I’m disappointed the film didn’t follow through on its transcendent ending, but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing this. The action sequences will making you think you’ve been transported to the 1990’s (some digital blood, but otherwise tons of practical effects) and Ben Foster makes it capable of withstanding a second viewing. If you were disappointed by The Expendables, The Mechanic is a good mix of bullets and character to quench your action thirst.