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Killer Odd Couple Elevates Routine Revenge Fantasy in 'The Mechanic'

Ben Foster stars as an up-and-coming assassin in The Mechanic.

Those who remember the 1972 thriller The Mechanic, starring Charles Bronson as an impenetrably stoic hit man who takes a murdered friend’s son as his apprentice, will recognize the key players in Simon West’s louder, more aggressive remake.

Jason Statham is Arthur Bishop, younger but no less disillusioned than Bronson’s solitary killer; Ben Foster is Steve, his depraved understudy; Donald Sutherland is Harry, Bishop’s friend and Steve’s estranged father, whose association with the murder-for-hire crowd ends as violently as one might expect.
 
Where West’s update diverges from Michael Winner’s more cynical original is not just in its reliance on flashier, better-choreographed set pieces and funked-up New Orleans blues, but also in its pacing. If Bronson moved to the cadence of a death march, a drawn-out requiem for an executioner losing his taste for the work, Statham’s hurtles toward a climax that’s less diabolical but more satisfying.
 
Rather than echoing the original’s grim meditation on the soullessness required of men who kill for pay, the new Mechanic gives Bishop a conscience. Ordered to snuff out Harry, his mentor, for reasons that seem to make sense at the time, Statham’s assassin hesitates long enough to betray his misgivings. There’s a heart beneath his icy exterior, a sentimentality missing in Bronson’s machine-like predecessor.
 
As if to pay the debt he owes his murdered friend, Bishop adopts Steve, his loose-cannon son, as a protégé, and it’s easy to see why. Steve is a natural killer, even more so than Bishop – restless, directionless and eager to channel his rage into the savage beatings he savors. Bishop’s touch is almost imperceptible. Steve prefers to get his hands dirty.
 
Strange bedfellows they make, but Bishop, whose paternal instincts override his common sense, welcomes the company. Isolated as his profession demands, his only intimacies fly-by-night visits with a prostitute, Bishop is an outcast by choice, and not a happy one. Steve brings something fresh to his grim routine, and Foster’s kinetic energy plays nicely against Statham’s calculated reserve.
 
Credit West and screenwriter Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) with toning down the existential angst of Lewis John Carlino’s original story and emphasizing its strengths – the escalating tension that threatens the killers’ tenuous friendship, and the bruising mayhem their partnership yields.
 
The new Mechanic is a more conventional exercise than the clumsily ambitious tale that inspired it, but it’s constructed sturdily enough to pass the time, with a sure-handed cast punching up what would otherwise be a routine revenge fantasy.