The basic plot of The Mechanic—a loose remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson movie of the same name—holds boundless promise for action fans, and mostly fulfills it: A preternaturally skilled hitman (Jason Statham) teaches a young loose cannon (Six Feet Under’s Ben Foster) the tricks of his slick, deadly trade. But things aren’t that simple, naturally. The duo connect at the funeral of Foster’s father (Donald Sutherland), who was also Statham’s mentor in the killin’ business—and whom Statham murdered early in the movie, under orders from his clearly no-good handler. Feeling some pang of regret even though Sutherland double-crossed the company, Statham takes the hotheaded, boozed-out scamp under his wing and sets about making him into an ice-veined killer. It’s the least he can do, right?
For a good chunk of its running time, The Mechanic is a buddy movie about two guys really enjoying murder together. They almost seem ready to high-five after a job well done, even as Statham’s character glumly explains “I wanted you to see one up close.” In order to ease the audience’s conscience, the protagonists’ victims are conveniently more awful than they are: an arms dealer “who’ll sell to anybody,” a ridiculous cult leader, a hulking gay assassin who wants to fuck Foster. Statham’s hit-plans are frequently complex, and he’s always eight or nine steps ahead of everyone else—so much that it would’ve been nice to see these guys actually planning more assignments instead of just watching those assignments unfold. But that would leave less screen time for strangulations, splattery headshots, and murder-by-fireplace-tools, so maybe it’s just as well.
Statham and Foster play off each other nicely, and director Simon West (Con Air) strikes a playful balance between carnage and conviviality, gore and gregariousness. A confrontation between the two leads is inevitable, and since The Mechanic is so morally muddled to begin with, it’s difficult to tell where things are headed, or how to take sides. That isn’t because these characters are well-drawn or terribly complex—they assuredly aren’t—but it’s still an unusual, intriguing path for a movie like this to travel. The only thing certain going into the climax is that guns will be fired and things will explode in style. Couple that with actual acting—Statham is the most winning action hero around, and Foster brings some nuance that the script probably doesn’t deserve—and it’s bloody fun.