Monday, February 7, 2011

Man on Film: The Mechanic

I cannot say that I go to remakes often, especially when they are as faithful to the original source material as I was expecting the remake of the Charles Bronson star-vehicle The Mechanic to be. Sure, I saw The A-Team and The Karate Kid (and Season of the Witch) last year, but usually it has a wrinkle added or is really an re-imagining of an earlier work--often a television series--for the screen. While the Michael Winner directed original may not have the wide viewership of the myriad other films that get remade every year, I love the original.

As a lover of The Mechanic in its first incarnation, I can say that I liked the remake for the most part. I don't necessarily believe that Michael Winner is an untouchable director. The first three Death Wish movies are very, very good, but his resume is otherwise rather thin on quality. The original is especially bold in that there is no dialogue for the first 16 minutes of the film, as Bronson's Arthur Bishop prepares for and carries out a hit. Simon West certainly pays homage to this intro sans dialogue, but it's the 21st Century. People are neither as intelligent nor as patient as they were in 1972. The thought is there, nonetheless.

I think most of the people who frequent this blog would share my feelings regarding both Bronson and Jason Statham. They are both uniquely awesome, and they each have a je ne sais quoi that sets them apart from their action star contemporaries. While each one is very different from one another, there is an intrinsic likability to each actor that makes the casting of the lead a push.

Where the remake has a leg up on the original is in the casting of the protege. In the original, we are stuck watching Jan-Michael Vincent do his best approximation of what he thinks acting might be. If you remember Airwolf at all, you should know what I'm talking about. The remake throws one of the best unsung character actors out there into the role of Steve McKenna in the form of Ben Foster. Just as he has everywhere from Freaks and Geeks to 3:10 to Yuma, Foster owns his role. It really is getting to the point that I'll watch almost any new movie with Ben Foster in it. That is a whole helluva lot more than you could ever have said about Mr. Vincent.

Now the main difference between the remake and the original is style. Simon West's update is a product of its time. The action sequences are a bit grander. The fight choreography a lot more visceral. It is what you want from a Jason Statham star-vehicle. Granted, he isn't as much a smart-ass, but I think it is easy to generally pretty damned easy root for him. Despite his British-ness, he exudes a working class aura that enables even the most ethnocentric Americans to get behind him. These are all things that The Mechanic has going for it.

And then there are the deaths. One of my favorite things about action movies is the ingenuity the film's crew takes in offing the bad guys. One of my favorite deaths ever was when an out-of-bullets Martin Blank offs his rival, Grocer, with a TV set in Grosse Pointe Blank. It's hilarious, and there is the added touch of his dead legs twitching from the left over electrical current* in the TV. The Mechanic has one in particular where I very audibly guffawed and couldn't stop laughing at its audacity. No, it isn't Rambo, but it delivers enough that you can't help but smiling coming out of the film... at least if you are as demented as I am.

*Or at least that's what my scientifically challenged mind rationalized the twitching to have resulted from.

The imperative question here (and really with any film) is did it succeed at accomplishing what it set out to do? While staying faithful to the source material, Simon West's vision of The Mechanic managed to entertain while rectifying the largest shortcoming of the original by trading out the dull Jan-Michael Vincent for the electric Ben Foster--and there was nudity. Is it high art? Of course not. If you go to movies as much as I do, this is fun if not entirely memorable action fare. I like Jason Statham, and if you buy into him, you're more than likely going to like it, too.

The only thing that could have been done different would have been--as Chad posited when we walked out of the movie--if Steve McKenna had lulled his first target into a false sense of security by going all the way with him first and then taking care of business. That would have been a weird-ass turn, and I'd have been all for it.

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