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Movie Review

Shoot ’em up ‘Mechanic’ pretty much by the book

Jason Statham stars in the remake of the 1972 action thriller “The Mechanic.’’ Jason Statham stars in the remake of the 1972 action thriller “The Mechanic.’’ (CBS Films via AP)
By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / January 28, 2011

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Before making “Death Wish’’ together, Charles Bronson and director Michael Winner reconnoitered the territory with 1972’s “The Mechanic,’’ an urban thriller casting Bronson as a meticulous hit man teaching his craft to young sociopath Jan-Michael Vincent. The movie was years ahead of “CSI’’ with some of its forensics-minded assassination schemes, and gave Bronson a grubbily entertaining vehicle for killing laconically (not to mention lounging around in a Hef robe, sipping merlot and perusing dossiers). Winner’s “Mechanic’’ also isn’t widely remembered, quickly ditches its stealth concept for routine gunplay and chases, and can rise or fall depending on your appreciation of Vincent’s period-groovy talents.

In other words, there was reason enough for producers David Winkler and Bill Chartoff, sons of the original’s producers, to think the movie merited a remake. But what we get from Jason Statham, sidekick Ben Foster (“The Messenger’’), and director Simon West (“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’’) is an intermittently arresting, mostly standard action entry that deals death noisily more than cleverly — a lot like the original.

Dispensing with the winking of “The Transporter’’ and his other signature gigs, Statham plays Arthur Bishop as all stoicism, a contract killer based in New Orleans, but who mainly skips the bon temps to work and then retreat to his luxe hideout/ops center on the bayou. Bishop develops the tiniest chink in his emotional armor when a corporate baddie (Tony Goldwyn) gives him an assignment to take out their mutual associate and Bishop’s mentor, Harry (Donald Sutherland, having fun as a mellowed, wheelchair-using hardcase). Enter Foster in the Vincent role as Harry’s son, Steve, an angry screw-up who doesn’t know the story behind his father’s death, but who nevertheless guilts Bishop into taking him on as a trainee.

Foster pours the character his usual shot of twitchy, damaged volatility, part of a makeover meant to lend greater logic to the story’s master-and-apprentice bond. This Steve is a lost soul searching for direction, not a mob brat killing for sport. Makes sense, at least until the motivationally muddled finale.

As for Bishop and Steve’s various dirty deeds, well, logic isn’t everything. Why, specifically, does one tense high-rise set piece sic them on a televangelist? Who knows? Is there some dramatically defensible reason for making a hulking rival mechanic (Jeff Chase) a hustler-trolling swinger? Hardly. But Chase’s knock-down, drag-out with Foster, in undercover-tease mode, certainly is a brutal little marvel of fight choreography. A mutilation-by-garbage-disposal scene is another niftily ugly trick.

So much for doing things quickly and cleanly, though. “The best jobs are the ones nobody ever knows you were there,’’ Statham says in an opening voice-over, following a cunning swimming-pool hit that has it all over Bronson’s intro. You’ll wish this new “Mechanic’’ bought into the idea completely.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

THE MECHANIC

Written by: Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino

Directed by: Simon West

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, and Donald Sutherland

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: R (strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity)

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