As I sat there in the darkened theater (the only patron at a Tuesday afternoon showing) and tried to watch Jason Statham act his way out of the proverbial paper bag, that old chestnut came to mind - the original is always better than the remake. No reason to change our mind now. Granted, the original 1972 Michael Winner version, starring Charles Bronson as the titular assassin (a mechanic, in underworld vernacular is a gun-for-hire) and Jan-Michael Vincent as his cocksure protégé, may not be in the annals of great cinema (though it is quite a fun ride for such a genre) but this new, in-your-face Hollywood remake, directed by Simon West and starring the one-note Statham in the Bronson role and Ben Foster in the Vincent part, is pure and simple action-fodder trash.
Not that such a conclusion should come as a surprise considering this is a Jason Statham movie - the man who makes emotional acting look more like having just eaten bad sushi. The young buck Foster does manage to lift the otherwise banal picture to a somewhat watchable creature, but his contribution is too little to come anywhere close to salvaging the picture as a whole. We also get Donald Sutherland, taking over the Keenan Wynn part, in what amounts to a push, since these are basically the same two actors anyway (and I mean that as complementary for all involved). But no matter how one looks at things, not only is this new Mechanic far inferior to the old Mechanic, it is far inferior to most movies - even those action flicks it has so many superficial things in common with.
In fact as action movies evolve into something bigger and better (think the Bourne movies or last year's silly yet hard-hitting Salt) things like this lackluster entity seem even less striking by comparison. While the original '72 version is an esoteric, and quite subtly acerbic look at the profession of killing for money (which is cinematically reminiscent of the times) this newer version has more of a shoot first and never ask questions attitude (again, reminiscent of the times) where the bigger and louder the explosions, the better the movie must be. Of course this non-creativity of such action (there is one particularly interesting fight scene on a bus that is the exception to this rule of the day) makes it seem even more inferior to the aforementioned newer class of action movies.
The main thing the original has over the copy though (other than Bronson being a much better actor than Statham) is its amoral character. Where here we see Statham's character as remorseful of things he has done and Foster's as revenge-driven, the original gives us a seemingly non-plussed Bronson and a Jan-Michael Vincent who seeks merely money and an adrenaline rush out of his killing. This amorality makes the original a deeper and, in a way, a much more brutal film - psychologically-speaking. But then, one should not expect so much out of a film like this anyway. Like the old adage goes, the original is always better than the remake, and I see no reason to change my mind now. [02/09/11]