The cheap, cruddy remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle "The Mechanic" has been rejiggered for Jason Statham with 10 times the brutality.
"Every man has his jelly spot," Bronson told Jan-Michael Vincent in the original, in and among the copious philosophizing absent from the new version. Here the jelly spots are the skulls that go splooey each time we're treated to an Xbox-inspired M-rated kill shot.
Let's not denigrate the term "action film" by applying it to the remake signed by director Simon West ("Con Air," "The General's Daughter"). This is a violence film, not an action film. Statham, scowling so that his eyes seem to be receding into his sockets, plays the cultured, sophisticated man-about-town who makes a fine living assassinating various anonymous subhumans for his powerful employer.
When head honcho (Tony Goldwyn, the only one worth watching in a strikingly weak supporting cast) assigns Statham's Arthur to eliminate his own boss (Donald Sutherland), our man develops a moral twinge. But he does what he must, and then, guiltily, takes on the dead man's wastrel son (Ben Foster, in the Vincent role) as a protégé.
The grungy distinction of the old Michael Winner-directed "Mechanic" came in its cat-and-mouse games. Once the newbie assassin learns who killed his father, the question becomes: Who will off whom, and how? However minor, the Bronson movie had its bizarre soul-searching streak, as well as the sight of Bronson and Vincent running around with guns, their copious Nixon-era hair flopping in the breeze. Statham, not so much.
What's remarkable about the remake is its nastiness. Set in New Orleans, here photographed to look like the dullest city on Earth, "The Mechanic" turns Foster's character into a man who enjoys the slaughter. The enjoyment is not infectious.
"I've always had this anger inside me," he seethes at one point, a few reels after nearly kicking an African American carjacker to death and then killing a homosexual lout targeted by the Company.
The filmmakers want it both ways with this man: comic relief (Isn't it funny to see him with his little Chihuahua?) and stone-cold freak, though admirably emotion-free when it comes to piling up bodies. Pile up they do.
Statham's a solid mass on which to build a revenge thriller, and he did well by another remake, "The Italian Job." That, at least, was a remake worth the remaking. But only Foster's itchy creativity as an actor keeps "The Mechanic" from stinking through and through.