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The Mechanic

Simon West's blood-drenched thriller The Mechanic is a loose remake of Michael Winner's 1972 film of the same name, with Jason Statham taking on the title role played originally by Charles Bronson. Statham, if nothing else, is a performer who knows his limitations. He's an action star first and actor second, and he has no interest in mimicking the iconic Death Wish star, or even attempting an American accent, for that matter. He's aware, perhaps more than anyone, that badassery knows no tongue. It speaks in fractured limbs and severed tendons.

Statham plays Arthur Bishop, an elite "mechanic," so-called for his practice of fixing problems, most of which entail someone being alive when someone else would rather they not be. Bishop's talent for killing earns him a healthy wage from his employer, a shadowy organization referred to only as "The Company." In between assignments, he lives in a stylish pad on the Louisiana bayou (a location which assures him a measure of anonymity AND affords the filmmakers generous tax breaks - talk about synergy!), where he sips fine wine, listens to classical music, restores classic sports cars, and ventures out on occasion for brief but passionate liaisons with a Spitzer-grade prostitute (Mini Anden), whose appeals for greater intimacy he politely declines.

''You need companionship,'' chides his kindly, wheelchair-bound boss and mentor, Harry, the only person with whom he enjoys a meaningful relationship. Bishop has genuine affection for Harry, and when The Company, acting on the dictates of its corporate-sinister CEO (Tony Goldwyn, naturally), liquidates the old man over allegations of profit-skimming, he is shaken - inasmuch as cold-blooded hitmen can be shaken. But that still doesn't quite explain why he agrees to take on Harry's orphaned son Steve (Ben Foster), an unstable, alcoholic ne'er-do-well with nihilistic tendencies, as an apprentice.

No matter. There is payback to be meted out; best to get on with it. And the combustible protégé, at the very least, promises to make things entertaining. The two are an odd pair: Steve's methods are as blunt and reckless as Bishop's are careful and precise. They even make love differently, as West demonstrates in two lightning-quick sex scenes that are shot in essentially the same matter as the action sequences. Because, well, they pretty much are. West's direction may be muddled and choppy at times, but at least his tone is consistent.

Foster adds an air of violent unpredictability that spices up The Mechanic's otherwise generic wade through genre conventions. When Steve embarks on his first solo job, the assassination of a gay rival mechanic, you get the sense that he just might ditch the assignment and hop into bed with him. (He doesn't, but wouldn't that make for one hell of a plot twist?) It's the film's strangest and most interesting scene, illustrative of Foster's ability to keep us on our toes when the story itself lags. Even Statham at times seems legitimately flummoxed by his co-star, as if he himself doesn't quite know what to expect from him.

We do, however, know what to expect from The Mechanic: lots of over-the-top action, and just enough of a plot to give the over-the-top action relevance. The film is ineffably preposterous - Bishop and Steve make little effort to conceal themselves during their bloody endeavors, and their "expert" assassinations leave behind a treasure trove of forensic evidence; Steve spends much of the film as a bumbling neophyte, only to become suddenly proficient during the climax; etc. - but no more so than any other Jason Statham vehicle. Depth of character is an afterthought: The principal dilemma our heroes face is, how best to eliminate the next faceless goon that enters our path? To which the answer invariably is: Use the gun. rated this film 3 stars.