Lots of things go boom in “The Mechanic,” and that’s entirely what the audience expects when they sit down to watch a Jason Statham movie these cold, wintry days. Those fireballs will push the chill right out of your bones. Statham’s character is cut from the same meat-and-potatoes roles he has offered up in his three “Transporter” films or any of the many films in which he wields a big gun, that trademarked laconic demeanor, and a face filled with a stoic, yet menacing, determination. You don’t screw with the formula, just like you don’t mess with the man. He’s usually a step ahead; if you’re on his naughty list, you’re probably dead by the time he leaves the room.
His character here, Arthur Bishop, is the best hit man in the business, a lean, mean efficiency machine who gets his job done. No mess, no fuss. That fact is shoved in your face with the pre-opening credit sequence, in which he single-handedly infiltrates a Colombian drug lord’s heavily-armed fortress and does the baddie in.
While Statham is delivering that professional perfection for the film’s short 92 minutes, Richard Wenks’ screenplay (with 79-year-old Lewis John Carlino, who did nothing in this update but shares the credit because he wrote the 1972 film, featuring Charles Bronson, on which this is based.) is barely stretching out the plot lines covered in the original version. Bishop takes on a young associate, the angry, estranged Steve McKenna (Ben “3:10 to Yuma” Foster) whose wheelchair-bound father Harry (Donald Sutherland) was Bishop’s point man until his death in a presumed carjacking. Actually, Harry was faulted by the offish, self-important Dean (Tony Goldwyn) for spilling the beans on a South African caper that left a team of hit men dead. Goldwyn plays his character flat (so you know you’re gonna hate him)—he’s the aloof taskmaster who selects the jobs for Bishop and pays the money. Boss man is up for a little (too much) deception that eventually comes back to bite him in the a*s (and other places). His is a much lesser (by screen time and strength) version of the Morgan Freeman character Sloan in the marvelous action piece “Wanted” from a few years back.
Skipping back and forth between his home town of New Orleans and Chicago, Bishop seems to know his way around better than any GPS device on the market. He’s a quick study—too quick to actually be realistic—and some of the set-ups are overindulgent excesses in violence. (It’s rated R for “Strong brutal violence throughout, language, some sexual content and nudity.”) Director Simon West’s resume includes the fun-packed, crazy “Con Air” and the over-the-top “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” but his last effort, before this, was helming and executive producing the pilot for TV’s “The Cape,” a mildly amusing spin on the superhero genre. Like the cartoon action in that series, there is one extended sequence in “The Mechanic” that strains the credibility of any viewer who wonders how commandeering a city bus and a dump truck in downtown Chicago, causing massive crashes (but only harm to those that deserve it), and unleashing a barrage of bullets that could wipe out a small village, goes unnoticed. Sure, it’s orchestrated fine in the best stuntman tradition, but, wait, no passersby seems to be in the streets, no cops seem to be on any corner, as havoc rains down on the streets.
In the end, it’s Statham’s performance as the droll, emotionless workaholic that powers the film forward, probably enough that a sequel wouldn’t be out of the question. For some very quick eye candy (the guys in the audience will appreciate it), there’s tall, slinky supermodel Mini Anden, whose character pretty much just strips down for a service call with the twice-her-age emotionless hunk. “The Mechanic” is revenge served up well enough to blast the winter blues away.