The latest action flick from director Simon West (Con-Air) is surprisingly violent – a good thing, because that is one of the only ways that the movie is surprising. Otherwise, The Mechanic is a fairly rote Jason Statham vehicle which ekes by on a script which could have been written by a fourteen-year old.
The film concerns Arthur Bishop (Statham), a hit-man who brags in voice-over about how difficult his job is, what with the need to do his killing in different ways. Sometimes it’s a quiet job where nobody needs to know the victim was a target, other times the client wants to make some kind of symbolic gesture out of the murder. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of finesse, and these are attributes that Arthur has in spades. When he is ordered to kill his mentor (Donald Sutherland), Arthur takes it hard but eventually decides that there’s a certain pirate code of ethics in the hit-man game, deciding that the best course of action is to follow through on the job. The business-type who assigns him the job, I might add, is interrupted by a phone call from his daughter during the killing conversation, a maddeningly obnoxious convention lifted from countless prior films, the idea being that he’s a sadist in the business world but a family man in his off-time. My, what well-rounded characters you have!
So Arthur takes on a protege, his mentor’s son Steve. Yup, Steve. As a sort of penance, I guess, our hero takes Steve on a tour of the hit-man life. He even sets the boy up with an easy kill to get him started – all he has to do is wait until a musclebound behemoth is not looking, then slip some poison in his drink. Easy as peasy, no? Unfortunately, Steve doesn’t take well to directions and turns the quiet killing into a bloody mess. This is a theme that continues throughout most of the film, in fact, the idea that Steve is awful at being a hit-man. There comes a time when you’ve got to step back and ask yourself, “Is this career really right for me?” The movie tries to set the two up as equals working together, all because Stevie gets good enough at using a gun that he can hit a bullseye. But there is no chemistry between the two – hell, there was no chemistry between Statham and Sutherland, either, and they were intended to have an almost father-son relationship prior to the father’s grisly murder at the hands of the son.
And so it goes. Arthur listens to classical music in his free time so that we can understand that although he has a blue-collar job, he’s not a total buffoon – he appreciates the arts, goddammit. He’s friendly with the old man who keeps an eye on the docks, proving that although Arthur is a killer he is not poor company. And when he has hilarious over-edited sex with a prostitute (the scene ends with the two of them watching tv in silence), he leaves a thick stack of bills on the table and gives her a puppy as a present. He’s a perfect gentleman. As it happens, I’ve only recently learned of the Bechdel test, thanks entirely to the press that Bridesmaids got for 15 minutes (there’s an intriguing discussion of that film going on over at “MEIER! in a Crowded Theater”, btw). For those unfamiliar with the test, it’s fairly simple: a movie passes the test if it has 1) two (named) female characters, who 2) talk to one another, 3) about something besides a man. It’s remarkable how few films can pass this test; the conclusion that you are expected to draw is that the movies are extremely sexist. That’s undoubtedly true, and as you might imagine, The Mechanic fails the test with no apologies. I was thinking about this while watching the film, but not as an indicator of how much the film hates women – instead, I viewed it as another sign of how thin the writing is. There are four women in the movie, none of whom have names. One is a prostitute that appears in two scenes, mostly to be partially nude; one may be a prostitute, no nudity; the final two exist to scream when Statham threatens the patriarch of their family. Yes, it shows the movie’s disregard for women, but it further shows the movie’s disregard for characters altogether. The most poignant moment in the film comes when Steve goes out to kill a random carjacker in order to get revenge for his father’s murder. Arthur talks him out of it with the sage advice that murdering somebody when you have a motive is similar to painting a bullseye on your back. This is the advice that Steve never got from his own father, having had a bad relationship with him. Steve would not have the anger issues he has if only his father would have called him one day and told him, “Don’t kill somebody if you know who they are.”
I would like to tell you how the movie ends, because it is amazing. And when I say “amazing”, I mean it in the sense that it will leave your jaw hanging open in disbelief: it blends incomprehensibility with absurdity and false irony in a way that can only be described as genius. Imagine, if you will, a Rube Goldberg machine – a complicated device which completes a multitude of tiny tasks, all in the name of completing some further inconsequential goal. The ending is like such a machine, only instead of a ball dropping and turning a lever which then turns on a light bulb, the movie drops the ball and the light bulb turns on mysteriously. Am I being vague enough? IT’S LIKE TWO THINGS HAPPEN THAT DON’T MAKE SENSE TOGETHER. It’s tempting to say that you’ll end the movie scratching your head, thinking, “But how did he–? But wasn’t he–? If he was there, then how–?”
But more likely, you’ll shrug. You’ll accept it and move on. The Mechanic is a simplistic diversion, nothing more. The action scenes are hardly special, the acting and dialogue hardly worth commenting on at all. It’s easy to imagine that the movie was filmed using an outline in place of a full script. And amazingly, eh, I guess it’s okay. There is nothing new or exciting in this movie whatsoever, but I still kind of liked it. I think it’s just because of Jason Statham. Would we even be talking about the movie if he wasn’t the star?