Skip to main content

I'm going to put a price on your head so big, that when you look in the mirror your reflection's gonna want to shoot you in the face.


The Mechanic
(2011)

Are the Stath and Simon West the new Scorsese/Di Caprio? In a B-movie, not very exciting sort of way? First came the above title. Then, in quick succession, The Expendables 2 and next a remake of forgotten ‘80s Burt Reynolds-starrer Heat (from William Goldman both times out, no less). Maybe great things beckon for the duo. Nah. The Mechanic is also a remake, from the now departed auteur Michael Winner and the Olivier of his generation Charles Bronson. Clearly West and Jason Statham had a lot to live up to.


The original script for Bronson version made play of a homosexual undertone between Bronson’s hitman and young apprentice Jan-Michael Vincent (his character is the son of a boss-man Bronson has just offed). It didn’t make it to the final film, and one would be hard-pressed to argue for more than a passing suggestion of its presence in the remake (Sutherland suggests that the Stath needs companionship, and soon after he takes Foster under his wing; when the two discuss going underground, it briefly seems as if they may elope together). That said, it’s baffling why the Stath’s super professional Arthur Bishop decides to take on Ben Foster’s head-case Steve except out of guilt over having topped his one-time mentor (and Foster’s dad) Donald Sutherland. The closest the movie gets to assigning supressed undercurrents to all this machismo is during Steve’s first job, where the target is a gay hit man with whom Foster must inveigle himself. The messy altercation between Steve and this contract killer (Jeff Chase) is the high point of the movie.


Foster’s an under-appreciated actor, and he’s the best thing here, even if his part isn’t up to much. He makes the Stath seem more nuanced than he is, no small feat. I like the Stath, of course, but the B-movie Bruce Willis label only applies as a mirror to the later, humourless Bruno. Stath’s a straight man action man; funny stuff can happen around him (see Crank) but if he tries to crack wise you the tumbleweeds start gathering in earnest.


Along for the ride is Tony Goldwyn who, when he isn’t directing, has a side-line in TV and movie villains. Which is to say, casting him is a massive giveaway if the initial intention is for his character to seem honest or friendly.


But Simon West has somehow made profit from a career of crashing insensitivity to plotting, pacing, staging and editing. Still he keeps going. His debut Con Air is a horrible mess of a production that retains a certain cult appeal due to the array of great actors, and Scott Rosenberg’s script. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was a big hit, in spite of proving that he had no idea how to make a coherent movie. In the last few years he’s staged something of a comeback with medium budget (meaning, expected to make their dough back in rentals) fare, although The Expendables gig may have been a boost to his bankability. He’s probably ascended to the league of a serviceable helmer; sub-Michael Bay, without the inventiveness (not really a compliment) to create that kind of deranged spectacle. There are a few effective set pieces in The Mechanic, but where it works it is due to the plundering of the reasonably solid the original script and lucking-in with Foster. West’s advertising background has never left him, which means his scenes always feel as if they are composed of unconnected shots rather than meshing together organically. And his tin ear is there for all to hear during the musical montages, which are more than faintly embarrassing.


The Stath keeps churning them out, movies with brief titles than meld into one when you see the posters or read the plot synopsis. But you have to credit him with knowing his core audience. The Mechanic is an agreeable time-passer, but it’s no Transporter 2. Then again, few movies are.

***

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

Blake's 7 4.13: Blake The best you can hope for the end of a series is that it leaves you wanting more. Blake certainly does that, so much so that I lapped up Tony Attwood’s Afterlife when it came out. I recall his speculation over who survived and who didn’t in his Programme Guide (curious that he thought Tarrant was unlikely to make it and then had him turn up in his continuation). Blake follows the template of previous season finales, piling incident upon incident until it reaches a crescendo.