Movie review in the Friday, Jan. 28 Oregonian....
The remake of Charles Bronson's loopy 1972 B-grade thriller "The Mechanic" improves on the original in at least one key way: Its lead characters appear to have souls.
The original (which I enjoy in that nostalgic, Sunday-afternoon-TV way) is a borderline-surreal international thriller that takes place in its own insular universe where the police don't seem to exist. Bronson plays an amoral hit man who finds himself training the even more amoral son of the mentor Bronson recently killed.
But stone-faced Bronson never seemed to struggle with the emotional complications of that weird, Shakespearean apprenticeship. In the remake -- which is directed by Simon West ("Con Air") and retains only to the barest basics of the '72 plot -- Jason Statham and Ben Foster play the assassin and his apprentice, and tinge the amoral stone-cold stuff with a just bit of regret. It's a subtle but significant improvement, and quite a bit more than the material demands, frankly.
But of course, the movie's still mostly the amoral stone-cold stuff -- and if well-staged, hard-R ultraviolence is your thing, you'll probably find a lot to like in "The Mechanic." The action scenes -- particularly a rooftop gunfight and two close-quarters melees -- are shot so tight and ruthless, you nearly fail to notice they're ridiculous. (Though nothing in the new film made me gasp like this insane motorcycle stunt in the '72 version.) The new film doesn't break a centimeter of new ground, but its stripped-down mayhem and more-nuanced-than-necessary performances are a modest surprise.
(92 min., rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity) Grade: B-minus
'The Mechanic' (The Oregonian, Friday, Jan. 28, 2011)