Jason Statham is the B-movie bruiser of the moment. He appears in the occasional Guy Ritchie gangster head game, but his genre of choice is the revved-up testosterone action film. The key to his charisma is that he’s so much more cutthroat smart and elegant, and so much more coolly British, than an actor from the crash-cars-and-ask-questions-later school needs to be. With his shaved skull and handsome you-talkin’-to-me stare, he’s like a Bruce Willis mad-dog avenger crossed with a more sociopathic James Bond.
As Arthur Bishop, the title character of The Mechanic, Statham is playing one of those super-stealth hitmen who can sneak into the most protected of lairs and slip away moments later with the target dead. The opening swimming-pool assassination is just clever enough to set you up for a hitman version of a heist thriller. But then Statham’s lone wolf is tricked into killing his longtime corporate associate (Donald Sutherland). Feeling used, he tries to make up for his sin by taking Sutherland’s son under his wing — a dissipated rich boy played by Ben Foster, who suggests a gnarled, hillbilly Justin Timberlake.
How do Statham and Foster team up in this movie? Simple: Statham, in about six minutes, teaches Foster everything there is to learn about being a master assassin. Before long, the apprentice is leaping off skyscrapers and wielding his weapon with fearless aplomb. The implausibility of The Mechanic, even on its own genre-movie terms, is jaw-dropping. Yet I might have forgiven that had the movie tried to involve us in some more elaborately sneaky contract murders. As it is, The Mechanic is ham-fisted pulp, like Robert Rodriguez’s Machete taking itself seriously. It’s enough to make you want to see Jason Statham take a break from B movies and become the A-list character actor he deserves to be. C