Redo or Redon’t: ‘The Mechanic’

Jason Statham, the reigning B-movie badass, has managed to kick out a career that has flirted with Bruce Willis-level prowess, while avoiding stepping in steaming piles of Steven Segal in the process.

Remake is a dirty word for many audience members repeatedly burned by bastardizations of youthful memories by high-gloss, empty remakes. But for marginal film’s like 1972’s ‘The Mechanic,’ a Statham-infused jolt of adrenaline is exactly what is called for.

Director Michael Winner’s original featured Charles Bronson as a monotone, unflappable executioner. His voice seldom raises above a grumble, and his turgid actions would be at home in a George Romero zombie film. He plays Arthur Bishop, a methodical assassin who shuffles through his job of contract killing with the enthusiasm of an accountant. When his assignment includes taking out his mentor, he barely blinks as he follows through.

The job is not without consequence, as his target’s carefree son, Steve (played by Jan Michael Vincent), decides to nudge himself under Arthur’s wing, not knowing he was the man responsible for his father’s death.

Arthur reluctantly agrees to let the partying playboy tag along and learn the tricks of the trade. This basic plot is also the blueprint for the Simon West-directed remake, with Statham as Arthur, Ben Foster as his younger protégée, and Donald Sutherland as Arthur’s boss/hit.

By placing Statham as the lead, though, it’s only natural that Arthur is slightly more agile in his operations, speeding up the funeral-procession pace of the original. It’s not to the level of distraction, like Statham’s most notable films ‘Crank’ and ‘The Transporter.’ And it carries more meat on its bones with its tangled story of professional duty and moral obligation.

Fans of  Statham’s stalwarts will be rewarded with his requisite flurry of fists and feet throughout, but the moments in between seem to carry more weight that the jokey dialogue that served as mere filler is many of his previous outings.

And for those who often fault Statham for his one-note delivery in previous films, his Arthur is far more complex than Bronson’s robotic march through the original. There is a hint of compassion buried beneath his mass of muscle. We witness a paternal instinct and watch as young Steve breathes life into Arthur’s soul-sucking existence.

It’s not just the leads, but the script that adds punch. Where the original carried with it lines like: “I don’t cowboy,”  and “Be dead sure, or dead,” the update replaces them with such pulpy zingers like: “I’m gonna put a price on your head so big, when you look in the mirror your reflection’s gonna want to shoot you in the face.” Come on! What’s not to love about that?!

Bronson’s original is not without it’s charms — from real-life wife Jill Ireland’s turn as a call girl, to its abrupt, kick-in-the-pants ending — but it is hardly the classic some may have you believe. And there are several elements that have not aged well (and I’m not talking the wardrobe atrocities, but rather the action sequences in which every car explodes in a fireball the moment of impact).

While the original was ambitious for its era,  this tune-up of  ‘The Mechanic’ feels like a much more sturdy revenge vehicle.

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