Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Mechanic (2011) Review

As the metal drummer might have affirmed upon trying to make sense of the Theory of Relativity “you should stick to what you know”, which in this case would be nothing. In terms of acting, there isn’t a lot that can be done with Jason Statham; after all he is a man whose chest resembles a house with a bear pelt stuck on so one wouldn’t expect him to portray the likes of Gandhi, making it perfectly logical for him to etch a niche in action movies. But Christ at a Gay pride march, I wish he would mix things up a bit every now and then and not just play exactly the same character over and over like Myron Castleman trapped in this loop for all of eternity. He always portrays an illegal professional for hire, and at some point said character will be betrayed, because that is what tends to happen when you work for people who are as cartoonishly bastardly as Dick Dastardly. Though you’ll be pleased to know that this remake of the 1972 Michael Winner version is as religious to this formula Aleister Crowley was to being creepy.

Jason Statham is Arthur Bishop, a professional Hitman or Mechanic as they have come to be known, due to the fact that they ‘fix problems’ just like a regular mechanic but with the additional violence. The idea that violence can solve practically any issue helps to reinforce the might is right mantra, sending a positive message to this generation’s already troubled youth. We are told he is the best but we only see him flawlessly carry out two contracts (one of whom is busy swimming and the other wheelchair bound); so for the director to actually expect us to believe he is at the same standard of professional butchery as Leon is on the same lines as Gordon Ramsey expecting us to believe in his cooking prowess, when all he does is swear at others for being shit. And I’m sorry but I forgot that he demands his contracts be called assignments, which frankly makes him seem like a pretentious serial killer. Moving back on track; just like the comrades in Bertolt Brecht’s Lehrstuck, The Decision, Arthur is forced to change everything he knows with a single bullet when he kills his mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). The leader of the ‘mysterious’ organization Dean (Tony Goldwyn) orders Arthur to kill Harry because he is endangering the organization, again just like the comrades in The Decision; hell at this rate the director Simon West will also end up in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Harry in his brief screen appearance never really feels like an actual character, he is more of a plot point since it is established that he and Arthur have a deep bond making it clear he will soon be dropped like the clothes of a wannabe starlet during a photo shoot. The ‘emotion’ when Arthur kills Harry feels forced and somewhat obligatory as though, because action movies are mostly for drooling men or lesbians so butch that they legally should be classed as men, it treats emotion in the same way most people treat vegetables – in small, medically recommended daily portions. It is painfully apparent that Harry’s death is merely a framing device as it leads to Arthur becoming a mentor to Harry’s narcissistic and mentally unstable son. Very clearly Arthur doesn’t watch a lot of movies and therefore is unable to work out that this is never a good idea. This becomes very clear when Steve (Ben Foster) decides to go out and kill random car jackers in the hope that he’ll get the ones that killed his father (Arthur made it look like a carjacking gone wrong). Now this can be applied to anything, not just vengeance, but his approach is like forgetting where you exactly live so you try every house along the way assuming that you will eventually find yours. Arthur’s decision to mentor him is unfeasibly stupid and creates an alliance akin to starting a pro wrestling tag team partnership with unexploded Second World War artillery shell.

As the character of Arthur Bishop is a heinous murderer supposedly disconnected from his emotions why does the murder of Harry affect him in the way that it does and why would he take Steve under his wing even though the man continually proves he is as much use as a attempting to destroy a Lich without first destroying the phylactery storing it’s very soul? The obvious reason for this is plot advancement since it would make for a rather boring movie if Jason Statham killed Harry, shunned Steve and blindly went on with his life not bothering to ask the vital questions; which is along the lines of how the average citizen of China lives. Speaking of unimportant plot strands, for a few scenes of the movie we are introduced to Sarah (Mini Anden) who is a red light bulb fan if you catch my drift, she also serves absolutely no bloody purpose. Sarah makes no contributions to the story and since Arthur only visits her to have his man-handle polished she isn’t there to bring emotion to the table.

In the original Charles Branson’s incarnation of Arthur Bishop hires a prostitute to write convincing love letters to him in a bid to compensate for the fact that his lifestyle means he is resigned to a life of solidarity. In the 2011 remake in lieu of the love letters we are treated to soft-core sex scenes, evidently subtlety and restraint are considered terminal illnesses by Simon West. What’s more annoying is the fact that there is an implication that Sarah is going to become his love interest as she clearly wants more than just sex, and Arthur begins to warm to her; even going as far as giving her a puppy as a pet. However after a certain point in the movie she is no longer seen (nothing happens to her for this to be valid) resulting in her story thread being a complete waste of time; I know it would have been clichéd for the hero to win the girl but at least a cliché is better than nothingness as the time traveler fallen victim to the grandfather paradox would probably say if he hadn’t destroyed his own mortality. The most logical explanation for this is because the movie was written by a Neanderthal for Neanderthals; featuring sex, brutal violence and pejoratives forming the perfect trifecta to keep the troglodytes entertained.

So at twenty to thirty minutes into movie we have already identified that the plot is ripe with inconsistencies and holes and is a horrendous mess which somewhat metaphorically resembles Cyäegha. This is not even taking into account the idea that Jason Statham could be anything other than ruination incarnate is ridiculous; the characters he plays are often as good at avoiding unwanted attention as the stereotypical Jew in a gymnasium. Aside from Steve and Arthur’s partnership the film focuses on Statham investigating what happened during the failed mission in South Africa, a failure which Dean (Tony Goldwyn) blamed on Harry’s treachery resulting in the man’s death. By investigating I of course mean he accidentally bumps into one of the mechanics who supposedly died during the mission, in the same way that one might ‘accidentally’ bump into an ex partner who your garrote vil really wants to meet. The writer, Lewis John Carlino, should have referred to Richard Bingham’s guide to faking your own death and not the one written by Connie Franklin because he needs to learn how to write characters that are able to keep a low profile. Christ, the mechanic cum Lazarus doesn’t even wear a fake mustache. It isn’t the posting footage of the Japanese tsunami set to When the levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin onto Youtube variety of unsubtle, just more of the fact he makes little effort to mask his appearance and walks around in public as though his soul motivation is to move the plot along.

Not that I am complaining because sod all has happened thus far in terms of the overarching storyline. After taking Steve under his wing, Arthur buys him a Chihuahua and gives him a routine to adhere to which includes taking the dog to a coffee shop every morning; I didn’t realize being a paid assassin involved the having the same routine as the citizens of Paris, perhaps for his next assignment he’ll have to grow a goatee. Later Arthur takes him on a first date to a drug dealer’s house where they bond over asphyxiating said dealer and attempting to make it appear as though he were taking part in the David Carradine Olympics. It is revealed that the routine which Steve was forced to adhere to was simply an attempt to attract the attention of Burke (Jeff Chase) a mechanic who works for a rival company. The task at hand is simple – the apprentice is to go on a date with Burke and kill him by drugging him with an overdose of Rohypnol; how difficult could that possibly be, it happens all the time in clubs after all. Instead, presumably because he is a practitioner of the Old Norse religions and therefore wants to fight for the glory of Odin, he decides to go to Burke’s house and finish the deed there. Now consider that Burke is a trained killer with the concupiscence of a rake owned by Lord Byron and an unarmed Steve is alone in his house and you’ll realize that this is equivalent to caring for a Ya-te-veo plant. Steve waits until the last possible moment to kill Burke as though he was actually contemplating going through with the intercourse and of course because he has to improvise the actual murder is as sloppy as a dog eating its food with chopsticks.

This is what happens when you type Dog and Messy Eater into Google.

Dean obviously realizes it wasn’t Arthur who snubbed out Burke, due to the crime scene resembling the raging bull in a china shop metaphor and cautions his rogue employee. Now a logical person would have taken this opportunity to step back and evaluate their failures, namely taking a psychopath into their home but instead Arthur takes him on a mission with even bigger stakes; which is like taking a recovering gambling addict to Vegas after they relapsed in Atlantic City. Their target this time is Andrew Vaughn (John McConnell) a leader of a cult like church, though the movie isn’t very clear about why Vaughn should be eliminated; yes he does appear to be slightly corrupt and yes he appears to run a cult but there are no indications to show that this is the Charlie Manson type of cult and not the one that Tom Cruise is in (you know which one I mean). Since Vaughn is somewhat of a celebrity and protected by a host of armed guards this is certainly a mission that requires some degree of tact, so obviously this is going to go as well as for the protagonist and the deuteragonist as the Battle of Agincourt did for Charles VI of France’s army.

There is also a pretty glaring hole in the story here, as Bishop’s plan is to inject Vaughn with an overdose of adrenalin which would cause a heart attack and if it doesn’t kill him then the paramedics will hopefully give him a dose of epinephrine, which is apparently poisonous when mixed with adrenalin. As the farmer waiting patiently to receive a ring swallowed by a bull might have said “Bull...shit!” Epinephrine is simply another name for adrenalin so Bishop’s silly rock, paper, scissors rules don’t apply here as it wouldn’t have poisoned Vaughn; through granted it probably would have been a case of death by overdose. Contrary to what Bishop claims Adrenaline does not counteract Ketamine either which means the botched plan is only botched due to the fact he clearly wasn’t present during science class. So they asphyxiate him, which leads to their eventual discovery due to Steve’s idiocy and whilst somewhere in the world Glenn Beck is shouting “I told you so” at Bishop this is hardly a bad thing as it leads to the first true action movie set piece of the entire movie. Yes a movie claiming to belong to the action genre doesn’t feature an extended shootout until ¾ of the way through its runtime.

This leads to the airport sequence which as I said is basically investigative reporting Statham style. Now by a divine coincidence Dean must have already sent his men to kill Bishop because after discovering the betrayal Bishop contacts Steve only to discover that several Mechanics have infiltrated his house. This just seems too much like perfect timing for my liking. To cut a boringly long story short, Bishop (he arrives rather quickly) and Steve kill their attackers an act which produces this response from Dean; “Those were my two best teams, I guess I’ll just have to send more” he says displaying the leadership skills of General Patton. Look this isn’t World War One, when locked in mortal combat you can’t just throw men into the Lion’s den in the hopes that after enough men you’ll eventually win – either due to luck or by fatiguing your foes. If they really were his best teams and had been bested by Arthur, then to a logical person this would prompt a change of tactics. But unfortunately for his men Dean adopts the six year old playing plastic soldiers versus household dog approach to murder.

They decide to take the battle to Dean and when Steve is instructed to gather supplies from the garage for the battle he discovers his father’s gun which is half-arsedly left in a perceptible place. Considering Harry’s death disturbed Arthur I can’t understand why he would want to keep a memento of the occasion, especially one that directly ties him to the murder. But since so far any plot points featured have been so bloody obviously plot points why was I expecting a more subtle variant of Chekhov’s gun? After their payback on Dean this evidence leads to Steve’s betrayal of Arthur, when the former tries to incinerate the latter at a gas station, something which the latter has anticipated right down to the fucking tee.

You really have to question just how Bishop knew Steve was going to betray him. I don’t mean generally, it was only a matter of time before that loose cannon snapped and bit the hand that feeds. But Arthur had everything rigged to destroy both the car and house before he realized Steve had discovered he was responsible for Harry’s death. Its one thing being prepared but it becomes something else entirely when it results in your annihilation the next time you put on a record. The saying God is in the details may be the mantra of most serial killers but it is highly improbable that Arthur could have predicted the exact moment Steve would betray him, and even if he did why couldn’t he have just snubbed the guy during the car ride? It’s not like Steve would have anticipated that Arthur knew of his impending treachery; killing Steve in the car would have had the benefit of pre-emptive killing, and still being able to enjoy a carpool lane.

But as Ed Wood once said; What do you know? Haven't you heard of suspension of disbelief?” a statement which, while it could certainly be applied here with validity, can easily be brushed to the side when you consider the fact that though Bishop tells Steve to not touch his audio equipment (which he does later activating the bomb) it isn’t stated that it is always rigged to an explosive; further more I doubt Bishop left the note in the Jaguar E-Type from the very beginning of their relationship as that would have been easily detectable and antithetical to its purpose. Or maybe he had taking these preventative measures from the outset, since his characters are so used to betrayal at this point it would have been redundant for him to utter “Et tu, Steve?”

All in all the film is a terrible waste of time; it’s not well executed enough to match some of Statham’s excellent earlier work such as Crank or The Transporter, nor is the story strong enough to be a rehash of Leon or The Matador. It certainly tries to be both of those movies but is geared more towards a younger audience as is evident in its excessive indulgence of slow motion (yes bullet casings do look cool when filmed coming out of a gun in slow motion as we already bore witness to in The Matrix) and sex. The last quarter of the film is the only part that could really call itself an action movie with a straight face and even then it is clearly in a rush to finish the experience as though the action scenes are ruining its vision of a grander story. The fact that the main villain is eliminated within ten minutes of the protagonist discovering he is the antagonist of the story shows the film’s inadequate pacing. Another issue is the characters themselves, Arthur Bishop is meant to be the sophisticated, cold intellectual type but unlike Charles Bronson before him Statham doesn’t come across as any possessing any of these traits; and Steve McKenna is just annoying. He is aggression personified and continuingly ruins Bishop’s missions in his bid to take out his anger of those that deserve it as a way of compensating for not being able to kill his father’s murderer. Dean is a generic enemy; shoehorned in for plot convenience. His motivations and subsequent actions can be found in almost every single action movie. As was my earlier conjecture, The Mechanic is barely functional and wastes it’s time wooing women and engaging in casual violence, just like a real Mechanic.