It’s a tradition to bemoan a remake for not living up to the classic that birthed it. But what do you do when the wronged original is a Charles Bronson programmer? Made before he and director Michael Winner unleashed the Death Wish cycle upon the world, The Mechanic (1972) is far from great, or even good, but it’s interesting. Bronson’s high-end assassin is a master craftsman, as well as hideously lonely, detached from humanity and, possibly, suicidal—surely the only explanation for why he plays mentor to a kid whose father he earlier whacked. (Hopefully he won’t seek revenge!) It’s a lazy director’s imitation Le Samouraï, with none of the craft but, eerily, some of the same concerns.
Thirty years later and Winner’s and Bronson’s curio is reborn as a Jason Statham vehicle, but not one of the fun ones. Statham’s Arthur Bishop is still an over-dedicated hitman who kills a colleague (Donald Sutherland) then finds himself drawn to help his hotheaded scion (Ben Foster, cashing in on The Messenger?). Needless to say, crazy-eyed Foster is a significant improvement over the original’s fratty Jan-Michael Vincent. The rest of the film fares less well. Beyond punking out on the ending—hint: there was no The Mechanic V: The Face of Death—it’s helmed by Simon West, a Jerry Bruckheimer flunkie responsible for Con Air. Technically, West is superior to Michael Winner—whose surname is a cruel joke—but he’s also a soulless huckster who does little with the plentiful set pieces.
That makes him a bad fit for Statham. One of the few old-school-style badasses in American cinema not eligible for AARP, this bulletheaded Brit excels when working with a sense of humor—preferably alongside Crank maniacs Neveldine/Taylor but even with those responsible for the enjoyably silly Transporters. Despite the massive gunplay, Bronson roles aren’t predominantly physical, giving Statham little to do but stare intensely. Miraculously, he’s even less expressive than Bronson, who in The Mechanic at least oozed a shaggy-haired melancholy—the suggestion of a roiling inner life trapped inside a stolid, fuzzy ’stasched husk. There’s nothing to Statham’s Arthur Bishop—but then, there’s nothing to this spin of The Mechanic.