Has it ever occurred to you why Hollywood will never run out of films to fill the big screens across the country? It’s really very simple. If the filmmakers can’t come up with something original, they will just remake an older film. In fact, more than 20 remakes are schedule for this year alone.
Now I’ve never been big fan of remakes because they usually turn out to be far inferior to the originals that spawn them. But “The Mechanic,” a remake of the 1972 films starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, may be a rare exception to the rule. The 1972 version was important in the development of cinema, however, because it was one of the first movies to deal specifically with a hit man, but the acting was laughably bad. The modern version stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster, who turn in performances far superior to those of Bronson and Vincent.
Statham plays Arthur Bishop, an accomplished assassin who works for an organization know only as “The Company,” and he makes a great deal of money for his imaginative hits that look like accidents instead of murders. In fact the film opens with one of his innovative kills, and we can see right away that Bishop is not just an ordinary assassin.
Bishop’s closest friend and confidante in The Company is Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), who is confined to a wheelchair. Early in the movie, Bishop meets with McKenna to collect his pay for the hit at the beginning of the film. The two of them seem to be on very friendly terms, but then Bishop is called to a meeting with the head of The Company who tells him that McKenna is responsible for an assignment gone awry in Cape Town that cost The Company the lives of some of its best men. And Bishop is ordered to kill McKenna.
Bishop reluctantly but dutifully carries out his assignment, and at the funeral he meets McKenna’s son, Steve (Foster), who asks Bishop for a ride home. One thing leads to another, and Bishop ultimately ends up taking McKenna on as a partner. Of course, the big question is whether or not McKenna will discover that his new buddy killed his father.
Both the original and the new version tell essentially the same story, but there are several variations, the most significant of which is the ending. Of course one of the main questions concerns why the film was remade in the first place, and Statham offered a logical answer in the film’s production notes.
“The story has great universal themes of revenge and redemption but the main intention was to make an action movie, an action thriller, that we could all be proud of. There are diehard fans of the original who will obviously want to see the film, but now there’s a whole new generation of people out there who will be introduced to this great story.”
Director Simon West (“Con Air” and “The General’s Daughter”) also explained what aroused his interest in directing the movie.
“I had never seen the original ‘Mechanic.’ What attracted me to the project was the premise itself. There have been a lot of hit man movies over the years, but this one is different because the assassin makes each killing look like an accident. He doesn’t just shoot people or blow them up in a simple, obvious way. This level of intricacy makes for a far more ingenious and clever story. Arthur Bishop is great at what he does, but he isn’t ruthless, which I found very appealing.”
As I said earlier, both Statham and Foster raise the level of acting from what it was in the original. Bronson was kind of the John Wayne of hit men, and Vincent was so bad that he made Keanu “I-Can’t-Act” Reeves look like Sir Laurence Oliver.
Both films contain plenty of action, but the newer version relies more heavily on pyrotechnics, which is to be expected given the advanced technology these days. The remake also contains a good chase scene as one really effective fight scene, but Bishop’s first kill in the original is much more interesting that it is in the remake.
While both films have their strengths and weaknesses, the updated version of “The Mechanic” (Give it a final score of six.) gets the overall edge because of the superior acting and a more surprising ending than the first one. If you are in the mood for a quick action fix, “The Mechanic” will work. Just don’t expect Jason Bourne or James Bond.