“The Mechanic” Deals in Old Parts and Bad Labor

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Tramping upon the gym treadmill, my attention shanghaied by the crazy reality show on the poor excuse of a TV station, it came to me for whom Simon West’s “The Mechanic” was intended. The program featured one car crash after the next, often interspersed with cops pulling drunks/and or deranged criminals from the wrecks. Ah, what good sport.

So it only makes sense if you’re going to make a feature length equivalent of such gratuitous garbage that you add a story. And the saga of an elite assassin, euphemistically called a mechanic, lends itself perfectly to the object at hand: the non-stop display of violence, bad behavior and a very twisted, venal sense of vigilante justice.

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Granted, this isn’t, as the song goes, what the world needs now. But then how many bloodthirsty mortals in search of vicarious revenge against their imagined persecutors would show up for a film depicting Socrates’s relationship with his prized pupil, Plato? Exactly. But make them a hit man and his young intern, and you’ll move lots of popcorn.

The title character here, portrayed by Jason Statham, is Arthur Bishop who, in the film’s opening scenes, essentially answers the tacitly posited, how can I kill thee?…let me count the ways. The drowning of a Colombian drug lord is detailed. We are let into Bishop’s world…all very corporate, professional and profitable.

And heck, why pay for some ingenious plot when you can simply trot out scenario # 765, wherein the jaded murderer in need of an heir to imbue with his skills selects a prodigy? Enters Ben Foster’s Steve McKenna, angry and dysfunctional—the perfect Gestapo recruit. Arthur regales him with tales of derring-do.

Never mind from whence the lad emanates. That’s the tale’s central twist. In any case, Steve, who I must assume wasn’t accepted to his first choice college and just couldn’t bear to attend his safety school, begins his hired killer instruction. Gosh, what happened to just bumming around Europe for a year?

Of course he takes to it like Lizzie Borden to the axe. Sicker yet, he and his mentor approximate what is probably the closest friendship either has ever experienced. In the meantime, the big machine that generates their client list shows itself for something even worse than we had first thought. But aha, Arthur is wise to them. He goes rogue.

Doubtless, “First Blood” (a.k.a. “Rambo”–1982) holds the record for greatest corpse accumulation in a military-related movie. However, save for the horror phylum, if there were an Oscar for highest body count in a civilian oriented film, “The Mechanic” could very well make a proud run for it. The close-up gore just might be the tipping point.

I could better stand this abhorrence in a Western, where the wholesale killin’ is part and parcel of the mythical lore. The implied justification in this present-day setting is that the greedy victims have committed crimes against humanity. Maybe even things as heinous as denying health coverage to a critically ill child because of a pre-existing condition.

Still, this self-appointed judge and jury stuff, meant to assuage the Great Unwashed’s discontent and frustration, commits a double injustice. First off, it’s anarchical. Secondly, those unwitting viewers who make a regular diet of such virtual revenge ostensibly come to embrace a philosophical hopelessness.

No sense telling your congressman you want meaningful action instead of false fealty to dogma when Arthur Bishop is happy to handle it for you lickety-split up on the big screen. Just entertainment, you say? Oh no, Mr. Machiavelli, this stratagem is older than the Romans’s bread and circus. And it’s been perfected to an ugly pitch.

Gravel-voiced, the contract killer delivers his tutelage in a bored monotone. We learn little about him, save for a few pop psychology cues. It might be he’s the Angel of Death.  The disingenuous ploy is that, compared to his megalomaniacal boss and his nasty student, he’s practically a nice guy. OK, so he can’t stop killing. Nobody’s perfect.

But if this is standard fare for you, that goes with the territory, as long as he doesn’t point his pistol in your direction. Oh, and as the one moral caveat in an otherwise ethical wasteland, he’s not supposed to smite anyone who he considers a friend. Oops…almost gave it away. But no matter. Folks who like this sort of thing rarely care about the plot.

As for or the rest of us, left to uphold the virtues and good taste of Western Civilization, I echo King Arthur’s advice in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975): “Run away! Run away!” Though artistically redeeming examples of the genre exist (i.e. – 1994’s “The Professional”), “The Mechanic,” supplying a pessimistic fix of violence, is beyond repair.

“The Mechanic,” rated R, is a CBS Films release directed by Simon West and stars Jason Statham, Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland. Running time: 93 minutes


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